What if you could rethink high school?

Mt. Hope is taking part in a project to redesign high school — with optimism and inspiration

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 10/3/19

If you could reimagine high school — redesign the student experience — what would it look like? It’s a question that leaders from 20 high schools around the state, including Mt. …

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What if you could rethink high school?

Mt. Hope is taking part in a project to redesign high school — with optimism and inspiration

Posted

If you could reimagine high school — redesign the student experience — what would it look like? It’s a question that leaders from 20 high schools around the state, including Mt. Hope, are asking their students this fall.

“It’s something like a competition, but we’re all working together,” said Mt. Hope High School Principal Deborah DiBiase, who, along with Shana Bloom, Mt. Hope’s work-based learning career coordinator, is leading the charge to become an XQ Super School, one of five schools in Rhode Island that will be awarded a $500,000 grant, over three years, to help execute their vision.

XQ, the sponsoring organization, is dedicated to the idea that the high school education should be structured in a way that allows every student to succeed, regardless of race, gender, or affluence.

Founded in 2015 by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and Russlynn Ali, former assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, XQ launched with a national competition that asked high schools around the U.S. to rethink the way they teach. About 10,000 schools responded, with 18 emerging as XQ Super Schools.

This time, XQ decided to take a state-based approach, selecting Rhode Island with a kick-off meeting this past March. Preliminary proposals were created and 20 high schools around the state were awarded $25,000 planning grants in June.

They have until the end of January to deliver their visions for the high school of the future. Five of those schools will be given the financial support to execute that vision.

Why Rhode Island?

Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a statement, “Rhode Island schools are doing some truly exciting work, with a record number of students taking advantage of advanced coursework, early college, and hands-on learning opportunities … XQ chose to do its first-ever statewide partnership with Rhode Island because they see tremendous potential here, and with their support and experience, we will be able to scale up best practices so that we can make high school more challenging, engaging, and relevant than ever before.”

“It’s a rigorous, fast-paced process about redesigning a student’s high school experience, making it relevant, meaningful, connecting to the community, to make sure our kids are successful after graduation,” said Principal DiBiase.

“Our goal used to be to have all our students graduate, and it’s important that they graduate career or college ready, with credits and experience under their belts. But what we have found is many students don’t know what comes next,” she said. “We need to do a better job at the high school level launching them on the next phase of their journey.”

Though it is technically a competition, the process is very collaborative, with the Mt. Hope team meeting with all the other finalists at a series of Design Days, sessions where the communities gather to learn together how they can create their plans and craft their visions. Design Days are hosted by RIDE (the Rhode Island Department of Education) and the Rhode Island Office of Innovation, with support from XQ.

“I’ve been in education for 26-plus years, and this is by far the most thought-out, research based, supportive initiative I’ve ever taken part in,” said Principal DiBiase. “Just the experience itself has been phenomenal. We are gaining so much insight.”

“It’s a complex, fast paced process, with constant support, and meetings, but it’s so exciting. No matter how it turns out, it’s opened my eyes to what we can do,” said Ms. Bloom.

A key component to this process is engaging the entire community, in and outside the walls of the school, including typically underrepresented members of the community. Families, employers, business and community leaders, everyone who has a thought about how to improve student experience is encouraged to share it with the development team.

Community forums are planned for early November, but until then, community members are invited to share their thoughts, ideas, and insight with Shana Bloom at shana.bloom@bwrsd.org. “It’s not just about Shana and I creating our vision. We want to hear from everyone,” said Principal DiBiase.

“Even if we don’t win, there’s this great takeaway. The direction we’re going in is the right direction.”

“We’re in the driver’s seat watching education expand in a new way,” said Ms. Bloom. “It’s an amazing, exciting place to be.”

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