Education is a vital part of our identity in Wauwatosa. While we have much to be proud of, there is always room for improvement. In response to the emerging challenges facing students today, parents, educators, and community leaders are taking a hands-on approach to reform the methods by which we deliver education to our children. Tosa Connection met with Amber Regan of Pathways High to discuss the group’s participation in the XQ Super School Project and their vision for education in Tosa and all our schools.
TC: What is the XQ Super School Project?
AR: The XQ Super School Project is a challenge to re-imagine public high school in the United States. It is sponsored by the XQ Institute and the Emerson Collective, a Laurene Powell Jobs philanthropic organization. $10 million will be awarded to five to ten re-imagined public high schools and will be dispersed in $2m increments over 5 years beginning August 2016. The first $2m is intended to help cover school implementation costs and the following four installments are to assist with the school’s operating expenses.
TC: When and how did you learn about the XQ Project?
AR: I took my son and his friend to see Most Likely to Succeed at the Milwaukee Film Festival last fall. They were freshmen in high school and were in the process of adjusting from a STEM project-based middle school to a traditional high school experience. As a freshmen, my son no longer wanted to be at school. He was bored and losing his interest in the sciences, the field he had always said was his favorite. At the end of the film, he turned to me and said, “We can do this, right?” He still had hope, but I had no way of figuring out this problem.
I felt trapped by the time limit and the choices available to us. He would be finished with high school by the time any real change could happen. Then, while untangling a Halloween decoration mess, I saw the ad for XQ.
TC: How did you tackle this challenge in such a short time?
AR: I quickly enlisted my neighbor and fellow Destination Imagination parent leader, Julia Burns. Together we gathered a team of parents, educators, neighbors and community leaders to develop our school concept. Our submission, Pathways High, along with about 1300 other submissions, was deemed eligible to advance to the XQ Discover and Design Phase. Even though this next phase was still dreaming big/creating, it required an incredible amount of research to support those ideas.
TC: What was involved in the Discover and Design Phase?
AR: There were seven major question categories, each with multiple sub-questions for the Discover and Design Phase. The major questions categories included: students in the 21st century, youth experience and aspirations, science of adolescent learning, school mission and culture, teaching and learning, student agency and engagement, networks and partnerships.
It was a tremendous amount of work and many late nights were spent reading the latest education research. Thanksgiving and Christmas were in the middle of those ten weeks so we really only had about eight weeks of time to gather first hand data from students, parents, educators and community members.
During this time we conducted four separate one-hour videotaped student interview sessions and then edited the footage to support our answers to the XQ questions which were limited to 350 word responses and up to three uploaded files.
TC: When and how did you learn that Pathways High was a semi-finalist? What was that experience like?
AR: Everyone on the Pathways High team received a message from XQ on Friday, April 8th, 2016 stating, “We think your Pathways High design is truly substantial and promising, and we are including you in the running to take it to the next level! You should be incredibly proud.” And we were! Perhaps a little stunned, but definitely incredibly proud.
TC: What does this next Semi-finalist phase require?
AR: Again, there are seven sections of multi-faceted questions due by May 23rd, 2016. This time, however, we need to develop the actual business of the school. Think of it as a detailed business plan including: financials, staffing, training and development, governance, performance management, time, space and technology — all requiring information and expertise specific to running a public school.
In addition, there is an interesting timed scenario activity included in this phase. At the conclusion of the activity our team must present our plan of action and then reflect on the work our team did together. We were instructed to view it as a chance for us, and the XQ evaluation team, to learn more about how our team will respond to the challenges that arise as we build, launch, and sustain Pathways High.
TC: This project sounds a lot like a Destination Imagination (DI) team challenge with an instant challenge added to raise the level of competition.
AR: That’s a very accurate description of the XQ Super School project, and especially meaningful to Julia and I given our experience coaching DI teams. DI is all about creatively and collaboratively solving problems. Throughout this process, we’ve often said we are modeling the problem solving behavior we want our children to exhibit. To be successful in a career and in life in the 21st century requires different skills than what our parents needed, or what we needed when we graduated from high school and college. The real world is demanding critical thinkers and creative problem solvers. Our schools must mirror the real world and support students’ development of these important skills.
TC: What are the key ideas you have from this experience?
AR: Our research has shown that education across the country is shifting from the current legacy model, to one built to prepare students for success in the 21st century. Communities around us are taking the leap and we don’t want to be left behind. Each story shared with us by students, community members, and business leaders helps to center us back to the most important aspect in of all of this; we are educating real children who need positive community support and experiences.
There has been many times as a parent that I have needed the help of people around me to untangle the incredibly complicated and emotional issues involved in raising children. Education feels so urgent when we think about our own children. We refer to education as “their future.” We went into the XQ experience with the intention of doing the hard work necessary for change. We want to bring the research to our community with the hope of uniting like-minded, hard-working parents, educators and community leaders into an action orientated group that is ready to tackle innovation in all our schools.
TC: What does your son think now?
AR: He has been involved all along. We interviewed teens early in the process to understand their needs and their fingerprints are all over our school. A group of them are working to design the space for this next phase. Julia and I have worked very hard to blend best practices from successful schools we have visited with the latest information about how people learn, and the needs of the students who will actually attend Pathways High.