DATE: July 26, 2016
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer
PHONE: 434-972-4049

Albemarle County Public Schools Is a Finalist in Competition for $10 Million Grant to Redesign High School Education

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – Albemarle County Public Schools has been selected as a finalist in a nationwide competition to redesign high school education. The XQ Institute, chaired by Laurene Powell Jobs, will select five applicants next month, each to receive grants of $2 million per year for up to five years. The purpose of the grants, according to the Institute, is to “rethink school in America in order to create new learning opportunities for young people and to open up the possibilities of a wider world.”

In a note to the school division, Russlynn Ali, the Chief Executive Officer of the XQ Institute, said, “We have found ourselves awed by the quality of your ideas, the depth of your dedication, and the breadth of your accomplishments. Tens of thousands of people raised their hands to lend their expertise. More than a thousand teams dove into what has become the largest open call in history to rethink high school.”

Over the past year, nearly 10,000 people from across the country, comprising some 700 teams, offered concepts for new or redesigned high schools. The XQ: Super School Project will enable five of those teams to turn their ideas into “Super Schools,” the Institute says.

From the nearly 700 teams that submitted applications in September of 2015, Albemarle County Public Schools is among the final pool of 50 applicants. Called CONNEXT, its proposal would provide each student with an individual learning advisory committee, consisting of teachers, parents, members of the community, and mentors. Each student would receive onsite and in-the-field learning opportunities developed by their committee. A central school-based location would serve as a hub for some classes, but a student also would incorporate such community resources as libraries, businesses, and civic, environmental, and public service organizations to learn and develop skills and competencies outside the school building.

“There were many compelling and innovative ideas, making the task of selecting Finalists a difficult one. Your selection as a Finalist is a testament to your extraordinary commitment to build a better future,” Ms. Ali said of Albemarle County’s proposal.

In its application, the school division said that the role of CONNEXT will be to provide students with the support, connections and resources needed to accelerate self-driven learning by students.

“We don’t want a student’s learning to be time-bound or confined by the walls of a school,” explained Chad Ratliff, the school division’s Director of Instructional Programs. “We will be using a wide range of resources to create universal access to learning at home, in schools, and across the community. We want students to have the opportunity, responsibility and capability to design and own their learning,” he said.

An important part of the research leading up to its proposal for CONNEXT, the school division said, was feedback from students “who made it clear they need more flexible scheduling, a more integrated and open curriculum, and authentic ‘real-life’ learning experiences.”

More than half of current high school students in the division are engaged in experiential learning through independent studies, internships and mentorships, job shadowing, and community service. CONNEXT would extend those opportunities to as many high school students as are interested.

In its first year, CONNEXT would consist of a pilot phase involving students from Albemarle High School. In its second year, which would be the program’s launch phase, CONNEXT would serve students from each of the school division’s high schools.