XQ + RI Update: 2 New XQ Schools and 18 Awards in High School Design Challenge

Big things are happening to high schools in America's smallest state. Here are Rhode Island's newest XQ schools.

By Team XQ

Together with our partners in Rhode Island, XQ is excited to welcome two new public high schools to the XQ schools cohort. The schools were selected to implement brand-new, transformative proposals as part of the first-of-its-kind XQ+RI Challenge.

Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA) in Providence and Ponaganset High School in North Scituate will receive best-in-class advisers and tools informed by leading-edge research to turn their bold and innovative designs into reality and serve as beacons of what’s possible for all Rhode Island high schools—and the nation. As the newest XQ schools, TAPA and Ponaganset High School will become part of the existing XQ Community of Practice, a diverse group of XQ educators and leaders that comes together throughout the year to learn from and with one another, as well as from researchers and education experts. They will each receive a dedicated coach and participate in in-person development days designed to support their strategic planning and implementation throughout the year.  Each school will also receive two-year grants of $500,000.

What is the XQ+RI High School Redesign Challenge?

The XQ+RI Challenge invited all 64 public high school communities across the state to rethink high school in order to expand educational equity and prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world. The challenge was designed with community, equity, and innovation at the core. It helped schools deeply and authentically engage educators, families, and students in this transformative high school redesign process. Of the 32 high school teams that submitted proposals, 20 received planning grants in June of 2019 and then began an intensive, seven-month design process.

“I’m thrilled that XQ chose to work with Rhode Island for this groundbreaking partnership,” said Governor Gina Raimondo. “The XQ+RI Challenge represents a unique opportunity for our state to continue to push ourselves on behalf of all Rhode Island students—not just those who come from privileged backgrounds. The innovative proposals developed by these school communities will have lasting implications for the entire state. And they will also serve as models for how students, educators, and policymakers can work together to transform high school education across the country.”

“XQ is proud to work with Rhode Island in our collective focus on cultivating a new generation of high schools, designed to meet the unique challenges of students and achieve breakthroughs in educational equity,” says Russlynn Ali, CEO and co-founder of XQ Institute. “We are grateful to and inspired by the leadership and unwavering focus of Governor Raimondo and Commissioner Infante-Green as well as the 20 school teams throughout Rhode Island. We know the work ahead is hard—but necessary—and we are ready to learn together as we usher in transformation across the nation.”

What did the XQ+RI high school redesign teams do? 

All 20 teams participated in intensive two-day, bimonthly XQ+RI design days—lively, in-person workshops where design teams representing schools from across the state came together with education and design experts to reflect on their current practice, collaborate, and create a new future through their school designs with students at the center. Each team analyzed in-depth data about students’ academic performance and explored qualitative student feedback to understand more deeply where inequities exist for students of color, low-income students, multilingual learners, and other groups that are historically underserved. They also received weekly coaching from XQ, inspirational visits to existing XQ Schools, and extensive peer support among their fellow schools to increase each community’s capacity to address challenges of equity and academic rigor with innovative approaches.


Through this deep work, XQ+RI teams developed a vision for making school a place where students want to be through flexible scheduling, personalized pathways, real-world learning that applies classroom lessons to everyday lives, community engagement and internships, and civic engagement projects. The teams came to better understand that they’re only as strong as their least well-served student and high school redesign plans include big thinking on specific tactics to engage every member of the community. They explored putting relationships front and center with protected time for students with mentors, building student-to-student bonds across grade levels, and explicit attention to social-emotional development, out-of-school concerns, and mental health. The result? Bold plans for rigorous, student-centered schools across the state.

What makes the two XQ+RI schools unique?

Ponaganset High School is a forward-looking comprehensive high school in a rural North Scituate. Long an educational innovator, with ten approved “college and career pathways,” advanced systems supporting competency-based learning, and a strong record in getting students to college, the focus now will be to ensure high expectations for all students. They’ll do this  by rethinking time, using space creatively, and developing new course pathways to put students at the center of the educational experience.

With strong participation by the district superintendent at every step, their redesign process will model how a high school must fully commit to ensure a truly high-quality, equitable learning experience for every student. The team has a long history of deep collaboration with other schools and innovative partners, and their willingness to share their journey of redesign will advance the momentum for high school redesign across the state. 

Additional aspects of their design that we’re eager to support include:

TAPA is the only performing arts high school in Providence and is focused on significantly increasing academic rigor and achievement. Local artists are embedded in the school to help connect students more authentically with the demands of their chosen fields. Serving 215 students in grades 7-12, the small size of the school allows for deep relationships among students, families, and educators.  At the heart of TAPA’s proposed redesign is the deliberate cultivation of “the artist mindset” and using the arts to drive academic, career, collegiate, and social-emotional excellence: students will learn to use the core artistic skills of self-reflection, continual practice, creation, collaboration, critical thinking, and community making in all of the work they do. Through this work, TAPA will shift what it means to be a student, teacher, and leader.  

“This [XQ+RI] experience helped push our school beyond what we ever could have imagined,” says Andy MacMannis, assistant head of school at TAPA. “We are grateful not only for the expertise XQ Institute brought to this process but also for the ability to learn from every other school in the initiative in ways that pushed us to be greater.” (Read more from Andy at the beginning of TAPA’s XQ+RI journey.)

“What these schools’ proposals highlight is that we can no longer accept one-size-fits-all approaches to high school,” said Angélica Infante-Green, Rhode Island commissioner of elementary and secondary education. “That kind of thinking has left too many students and schools playing catch-up. Community input matters deeply—because students, educators, and families know what they need to prepare our young people for success.”

What are the XQ Accelerator Awards? 

Additional participants in the XQ+RI Challenge, 360 High School in Providence and Woonsocket High School in Woonsocket, were particularly ambitious in presenting how to enable students to become social change agents and owners of their own learning. These teams will receive XQ Accelerator Awards of $120,000 each this year toward advancing their bold ideas for whole-school transformation. 360 High School will hone its focus on student “making” as a whole-school strategy that reconstructs the instructional model and expands differentiation, particularly for multilingual learners. With its whole-school redesign, Woonsocket High School aims to rebuild classroom culture and build educator capacity to support student agency, rigor, and mastery through extensive partnerships. Woonsocket High School is the community’s only high school and aspires to have a ripple effect on its revitalization.

What are the XQ Momentum Awards? 

Additionally, 16 high schools will be recognized with $20,000 XQ Momentum Awards for their commitment to diving deep into their schools’ data and confronting issues of equity and rigor with candor. They will also receive ongoing support, from webinars throughout the year to full access to XQ tools and resources. The awards will support proposed projects envisioned by teams during the XQ+RI planning process such as incorporating the “design thinking” process into student learning, creating “summer link” experiences designed to give every student a strong start and developing strategies to strengthen relationships between educators and students.

The XQ Momentum awardees are: YouthBuild Prep in Providence; The Learning Community Charter School in Central Falls; Chariho Regional High School in Wood River Junction; The MET – Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Providence; East Providence High School in East Providence; Barrington High School in Barrington; Highlander Charter School in Providence; Hope High School in Providence; Mount Pleasant High School in Providence; Scituate High School in North Scituate; Mt. Hope High School in Bristol; Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence; E-Cubed Academy in Providence; Smithfield Senior High School in Smithfield; Evolutions High School in Providence; and William B. Cooley Sr. High School (JSEC) in Providence.

What can we expect next from the XQ+RI high school redesign challenge? 

“The energy for this work of reimagination and fundamental transformation of the high school experience in Rhode Island is alive and well with all 20 teams,” says Nicole Campbell, managing director of state and local strategy at XQ Institute. “Every team has its unique role in leading its communities and the state toward unprecedented outcomes and opportunities for the full range of students in Rhode Island. As the firsts to move forward with implementing bold plans through XQ+RI this fall, TAPA, and Ponaganset are leading the way. Our support and partnership will extend to include Woonsocket and 360 High School, the Momentum Award recipients, and the larger Rhode Island community — with a collective vision for the entire state to challenge itself to rethink what high school education should be—with equity, rigor, and students front and center. Our work is just beginning and we are thrilled.” 

How can I learn more about high school redesign partnerships? 

For more on XQ Schools and State and Local Partnerships, including XQ+RIXQ + NYC, and XQ + Tulsa Beyond, check out the links below: