Palo Alto resident Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of technology pioneer Steve Jobs, is investing $50 million in an open-source campaign to innovate a place that has a reputation for struggling to evolve with the changing times: America's public high schools.
The XQ Institute, a new organization housed under Powell Jobs' Palo Alto-based philanthropic organization, Emerson Collective, announced last week the launch of the "Super School Project," described as a "national movement to reimagine high school."
"In the last hundred years, America has gone from a Model T to a Tesla and from a switchboard to a smartphone, but our public high schools have stayed frozen in time," the project website reads. "We believe American ingenuity can and must move education forward.
"This is a challenge, open to all, to build the Super Schools that will lead the way."
The XQ Institute will accept proposals over the next few months from any and all sectors, from educators and parents to business leaders. The institute will then partner with a select number of teams to provide "expert support" and funding with a plan "to support at least five schools over the next five years to turn their ideas into real Super Schools."
The website for the Super School challenge includes resources on 21st-century learning, the science of adolescent learning, frameworks around defining school culture and engaging students in the planning process, budget management and more. It urges interested participants to search out "audacious, unconventional, unconstrained ideas to reinvent the American high school."
Russlynn Ali, former assistant secretary for civil rights for the U.S. Department of Education and current managing director of education for the Emerson Collective, will serve as the XQ Institute's CEO. Powell Jobs is chairing the institute's board.
Partners include everyone from musician Yo Yo Ma and education advocate Geoffrey Canada to the National Center for Civic Innovation and San Francisco consulting company SY Partners.
Powell Jobs is also the co-founder of College Track, a comprehensive after-school program that recruits students from underserved communities and works with them from the summer before ninth grade through college graduation. The program began in East Palo Alto in 1995.
Beyond education, the Emerson Collective also focuses on immigration reform and social justice issues like food insecurity and the juvenile justice system.
Perhaps one line of the Emerson Collective's mission best describes the driving force behind its newest project: "We have an impatience with convention and a bias toward 'what if?'"