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ACPS Among National Semi-Finalists in XQ Super School Project

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – The top 10 jobs in demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004, and as many as 65 percent of elementary school students in the U.S. today will end up in jobs that do not yet exist.

That’s the assessment of Fulvia Montresor, who works with companies across the globe on behalf of the World Economic Forum. For Albemarle County Public Schools, such projections can have significant implications for how best to achieve its mission of preparing today’s students to be not only tomorrow’s successful professionals, but also informed and engaged citizens throughout their adult lives.

One answer for how the school division will meet this challenge can be found in a proposal the school division has filed in a national competition for up to $10 million in grant funding over five years. The funding would come from the XQ: The Super School Project, which last year began soliciting proposals for the redesign of the American high school. The XQ Institute, chaired by Laurene Powell Jobs, is dedicated to “rethinking school in America in order to create new learning opportunities for young people and to open up the possibilities of a wider world.”

Over the past year, nearly 10,000 people from across the country comprising some 700 teams offered applications or concepts for new or redesigned high schools. The XQ: Super School Project is planning to award five-year grants totaling $10 million apiece to five teams to enable them “to turn their ideas into real Super Schools,” the Institute says.

Earlier this spring, Albemarle County Public Schools was among those applicants whose proposal made it into the semi-final phase of review. Finalists will be announced on July 24, and the winners of the competition will be announced by August 4.

“This is a remarkably transformative opportunity for our students and the future of our county,” said Chad Ratliff, Director of Instructional Programs for the division. “The proposal we developed largely was influenced by students who uniformly told us that in addition to mastering content, they most valued experiential learning,” he added.

Called CONNEXT, the new high school model would consist of on-site and in-the-field learning opportunities developed by a student’s individual Learning Advisory 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.

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 learning to be time-bound or confined by the walls of a school,” Ratliff explained. “We would 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 concluded.

As envisioned in its proposal, the school division pointed out that, at present, more than half of its current high school students are engaged in experiential learning through independent studies, internships and mentorships, job shadowing, and community service.

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.