America got a glimpse of what some say high school should be like Friday night when XQ Super School Live aired on four national networks. Featuring reimagined high schools from across the country, the broadcast was meant to inspire communities to implement creative ideas for secondary schools in their own communities.
Led by former Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Russlyn Ali in partnership with Laurene Powell Jobs, who founded Emerson Collective, the Super School Project started two years ago when the XQ Institute challenged communities to rethink and redesign the American high school.
Teams of parents, educators, students, entrepreneurs and others from 4,000 communities submitted proposals and several schools are receiving funds to implement their interpretations of a quality high school experience, and over $115 million has been committed toward the innovative projects so far.
Furr High School in Houston, which Principal Bertie Simmons says used to be a “dropout factory” but now has a 95% graduation rate, was one of the schools featured in the video. “Schools have been frozen in time and I want to unfreeze this school,” she said.
The video showed high school students teaching science to younger students and working in a community garden. Circulos High School in the Santa Ana (CA) Unified School District is another one of the schools receiving $2.5 million over the next five years to implement a design focused on providing opportunities for enrichment and strengthening relationships between students and the community. The model will also be implemented in other district high schools.
With town hall gatherings and contests, the Super School Project has included opportunities for students to submit their ideas for how to improve schools. Friday’s event featured five winners of the Brave New Schools competition, in which students submitted original poems, raps or stories describing how their ideal school. Some observers, however, say that the initiative creates the false idea that schools haven’t made progress. Public schools “helped produce the dynamic, literate, diverse, entrepreneurial nation we live in,” Jack Schneider, an assistant education professor at College of the Holy Cross, wrote In a piece for The Washington Post. “Can we improve the existing system? Absolutely. In order to do so, however, we need to be firmly grounded in reality.”
Friday’s telecast, featuring a wide range of celebrities — both live and on video — was produced in partnership with the Entertainment Industry Foundation, which also leads the Stand Up to Cancer campaign. Two years ago, the foundation held a similar education-focused live event with Think it Up, which featured inspiring teachers working in partnership with students.