New Designs for School
New Designs for School

We’ve all had the experience of truly purposeful, authentic learning and know how valuable it is. Educators are taking the best of what we know about learning, student support, effective instruction, and interpersonal skill-building to completely reimagine schools so that students experience that kind of purposeful learning all day, every day.

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Learn about the history of innovation behind the founders of Washington Leadership Academy, recently recognized with a $10 million grant to rethink high school. 

Last month, XQ announced ten winners of its super-competitive $10 million Super School grant program. Half of the winners have NGLC roots. We think that’s something to celebrate.

This blog series takes a look back at the influence of the leaders behind Summit Elevate, Brooklyn LAB High School, Powderhouse Studios, Washington Leadership Academy, and RISE High on next gen school design and the future of the American high school.

To mark the leadership of the innovators behind the five XQ Super Schools, we share with you their winning design along with their own thoughts about reimagining education and their NGLC roots. Today, we celebrate Washington Leadership Academy.

Washington Leadership Academy

XQ Super School Description: Imagine students in a school whose walls can talk, where books fly and global boundaries disappear.

Washington Leadership Academy will continuously embrace the newest technologies to connect DC students to their world and beyond.
Through augmented and virtual reality and—in the future—holographic modules, this Super School will immerse students in educational experiences currently thought unreachable. Whether embarking on a VR field trip, learning about economics from an industry professional via hologram, or engaging in culturally relevant STEM curricula, Washington Leadership will inspire a love of learning and a growth mindset. (Source)

Interview with WLA Founders, Teachers, Students

What are you most excited about with your XQ SuperSchool design?

That we get to take computer science for four years! It's something new that I haven't tried yet in school.
–Claudia Gao, 13, Founding 9th Grader

How has your thinking evolved since you were funded through Breakthrough Schools: D.C. (a NGLC Regional Fund)? In what ways has your involvement springboarded your design?

Innovation means failing fast and fixing fast, and we've been extremely grateful to our early collaborators in the NGLC community for so candidly sharing their successes and challenges with our team as we were creating our school design. By visiting schools and connecting with leaders that were already experimenting with unconventional ways of educating, we were able to avoid some pitfalls and focus on new and different problems. We have used some NGLC schools as proof points of high-quality blended classrooms, integrated project-based learning, and data-driven yet joyful culture—all hallmarks of our program.

Additionally, it was the early financial support of NGLC and D.C.'s Breakthrough Schools that enabled us to even begin the process of writing a charter. Their seed philanthropy gave us the confidence and means to pursue our idea.
–Natalie Gould, Founding Director of Operations

What motivates you personally to be an innovator? What drives your team’s passion?

I like being a founder! It's like I'm starting a league for other generations who are going to come to this school.
–Claudia Gao, 13, Founding 9th Grader

In order to be an innovator, you can’t be afraid to try new things and fail, as long as you learn something from those failures. I am motivated to be an innovator because persistence is a quality that we need to model for our students. I am not the most tech-savvy person, I don’t know how to code, and I’m not even a good typer. However, I am never afraid to try something new with technology in order to try and engage my students. If it crashes and burns, so be it! If I ask the right questions of my students, they might be able to point me in the direction of how to make it work.

What drives the team’s passion is that we have a deep dissatisfaction with school choice in D.C. and in the United States. The fact that we know that we could do education better than the way it has been done frustrates us, but we use that frustration as motivation to improve the education of our students.
–Adam Browning, Founding Math Teacher.

NGLC Roots

Washington Leadership Academy has been supported by Breakthrough Schools: D.C., an initiative of CityBridge Foundation. Breakthrough Schools: D.C. is one of seven NGLC Regional Funds for Breakthrough Schools. The NGLC Regional Funds is a $25 million effort launched in 2013 in Washington, D.C. and Chicago and is now operating in seven regions around the country.

The goal of the NGLC Regional Funds is to catalyze next gen school design at the level of networks and clusters. Prior to the Regional Funds, NGLC’s national grantmaking resulted in just one school award in the nation’s capital. Since 2013, CityBridge has funded 13 new-start and redesigned D.C. public and public charter schools. That success comes from the intense local support provided by CityBridge. Programming—designed to help school design teams build their capacity to personalize learning and improve outcomes for students—ranges from workshops, multiple-day institutes, and consultations for applicants to personalized support plans, coaching, and a professional learning community for grant recipients.

Washington Leadership Academy has demonstrated the power of the local incubation provided by Breakthrough Schools: D.C., where a community of innovative educators are embracing locally-owned transformation. In that spirit, the school is making all of its school development and operations resources open-sourced for other schools.

As described on the school’s website, “Washington Leadership Academy’s mission is to prepare students with the knowledge, skills and habits required for success in college and lives of public leadership.” Cornerstones of the school’s design include computer science and coding as well as real-world internships, leadership development, and social justice. You can read more about the school’s design in a Washington Post article on the school’s XQ Super School award.

Congratulations to the teachers, students, and staff at Washington Leadership Academy for your leadership in reinventing high school!

More XQ Super Schools with NGLC Roots

Kristen Vogt (she/her/hers)

Knowledge Officer, NGLC

Kristen Vogt, knowledge management officer for NGLC, focuses on identifying lessons, strategies and outcomes from the NGLC community and making them available to a wider audience.