- Community support and the backing of a prominent education reform group wasn't enough to get a would-be innovative high school in Massachusetts' Somerville Public Schools off the ground, according to The Hechinger Report, which notes the local school committee unanimously voted against the Powderhouse Studios school citing equity concerns.
- The school was slated to open this fall after nearly seven years of planning and had already received a $10 million grant from the XQ Super School Project, a group focused on reforming high school by focusing on real-world skills.
- Members of the committee questioned the school leaders’ experience and ability to maintain diversity, as the school would be likely to attract a more affluent population. Despite outside funding, the school was deemed too costly for the district, which would have had to cut teacher positions and extracurricular programs affecting the majority of Somerville students — a price leaders were unwilling to pay despite supporting the school’s innovative approach to project-based and individualized learning.
The XQ Super School Project, backed by Laurene Powell Jobs and run by Russlyn Ali, former U.S. assistant secretary for civil rights, has garnered a lot of attention for its mission to reimagine the traditional American high school experience. The group itself maintains the importance of equity in education and sees its reforms as a way toward that goal. But as the leaders of Powderhouse Studios found out the hard way, sometimes that’s difficult to maintain when you are drawing from an already limited pool of resources.
School leaders interested in trying their hand at innovation may have more buy-in reforming an already existing school, as the Meadowlark School in Colorado’s Boulder Valley School District did in 2017 after a successful bond. Other schools found ways to provide students with more ownership over their own learning through relatively inexpensive means as simple as creating more flexible seating environments. For entirely new schools, outside funding could be key to seeing the project come to fruition in order to lessen the burden on the district.
To avoid another Powderhouse pitfall, school leaders would do well to spend time mapping out plans for recruiting and maintaining a diverse student body, according to NewSchools Venture Fund, another organization that invests in start-up schools. School leaders should be open about their goals to promote equity and diversity from the start, a recent report suggests.
While the Powderhouse school was unsuccessful, one promising takeaway from the story is that the school did have a lot of support from the community. This could indicate that parents and students elsewhere might be open to similar ideas, as well.