DC+XQ Announces First Cohort of High Schools to Be “Reimagined and Redesigned”

Today, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and XQ Institute (XQ) announced that after a…

By Team XQ

Today, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and XQ Institute (XQ) announced that after a seven-month, community-driven design journey, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and Francis L. Cardozo Education Campus have been selected for the first cohort of DC+XQ, a multi-year partnership between DCPS and XQ Institute to rethink and redesign all DCPS high schools. DC+XQ is representative of DCPS’s commitment to providing cutting-edge and inclusive college and career pathways to all young people in the nation’s capital. 

The two high schools will spend the current school year prototyping and piloting elements of their school models, testing ideas, and gathering further input from their communities with the promise of further scaling their designs at the start of the 2023-2024 school year. Dunbar will reimagine the high school experience and deepen the academic achievement of its students through the lens of Afrofuturism, a cultural and intellectual movement that leverages knowledge of the past to create possibilities for the future. Cardozo will center its student experience around the goal of financial independence, including building an interdisciplinary approach that infuses rigorous high school academics with real-world business and financial skills. Each school design intends to touch every aspect of their students’ high school journeys, increasing academic achievement and student readiness for life after high school by finding relevance that is unique to their respective communities. 

“This is a step forward in our work to reimagine what is possible for our schools and students, while ensuring we are preparing our young people for college and career pathways,” said Dr. Lewis Ferebee, Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools. “We are inspired by the creative energy and advocacy from the community, and we look forward to supporting our schools in the next legs of their journeys to rethink and redesign the high school experience.” 

“The Cardozo and Dunbar teams have envisioned schools where every student will experience the truly challenging, rigorous learning they need for the 21st century,” said Jeanie Lee, Head of Partnership Expansion, XQ Institute. “As just one example, Dunbar’s redesign application included a learning experience that illustrated how technology and Afrofuturism — a cultural, artistic and intellectual movement that uses deep knowledge and skills to reimagine the future — can be applied to examine and understand local environmental issues. This is exactly the kind of learning that students want, need and deserve. When students have meaningful learning experiences that require a higher intellectual lift, they engage and thrive with the content.”

The School Redesign Journey So Far 

The DC+XQ initiative launched in February 2022. The partnership is unique because of the way it has brought together hundreds of educators, families, students, and community members – from aldermen to community members to business owners – to redesign the high school experience in a way that’s more relevant and engaging so that all students graduate prepared to thrive in a rapidly changing world. The initiative is a partnership between DCPS and XQ Institute, a non-profit that collaborates with communities across the nation to reimagine and redesign the schools and school systems in their communities. 

“Keeping up with a changing world means having the flexibility, vision, and willingness to reimagine how we prepare young people to succeed in school and after graduation,” said Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser. “What I appreciate about the DC+XQ partnership is that it is centered around the needs and interests of our school communities. I look forward to seeing the visions of the Dunbar and Cardozo communities come to life in ways that not only provide students more opportunities, but opportunities tailored to the hopes and dreams of our young people.”

During the seven-month design journey, teams at six DCPS high schools (Cardozo Education Campus, Columbia Heights Education Campus, Coolidge High School, Dunbar High School, HD Woodson High School, and Ron Brown College Preparatory High School) immersed themselves in XQ’s research-based Design Principles and Learner Outcomes. They conducted an equity audit of their schools to determine which students were and were not benefiting from the existing educational model. They deeply engaged their communities and young people to evaluate current student opportunities, and also learned from other inspiring XQ school models across the country to understand what’s possible. These school-based teams include educators, families, students, and community members.

Thousands of community members attended information sessions or contributed their ideas for high school redesign. As teams refined their designs, they met with dozens of experts across industries and disciplines who gave their time and their expertise. These experts recognized that to redesign the high school experience in the nation’s capital is an opportunity to demonstrate what is possible in every community in our country.

Ultimately, each school developed a core design concept that identified the greatest areas of need for their students, the assets of their communities, and the boldest opportunities to rethink the high school experience for students. This summer, a panel of experts, representing local and national K-12, university, civic, business, and philanthropic sectors evaluated redesign applications from the six high schools.  

“After an extensive review of the applications, one thing is clear – it’s an exciting time to be a DCPS student. Howard University prides itself on both its dedication to the Washington, D.C. community and its role as a national example of what is possible,” said Howard University Dean Dawn Williams, one of 17 review panelists from across the country who evaluated the design teams’ plans. “The bold and innovative school designs developed during DC+XQ represent a deep commitment to community leadership and hold both the promise of expanded opportunities for DC’s high school students, and the development of collaborative models that can serve as national examples of what is possible when we all come together to support the potential of our young people.”

“I was inspired by the rigor and innovative thinking on display in the schools’ design applications—in addition, I was delighted to see the unprecedented amount of collaboration between educators, students, parents, and partners across DC,” said review panelist CityBridge Founder and Chair Katherine Bradley. “The partnership between DCPS and XQ Institute will be a redesign force, changing what it means to be a high school student, both here in the nation’s capital and across the country.”

DC+XQ builds off decades of progress at DCPS, its rich history, and the incredible talent already present in D.C.’s communities. In 2019, DCPS launched a redesign process at Anacostia and Ballou High Schools. It demonstrated a commitment to community-driven change, a value that is shared by both DCPS and XQ Institute. This shared belief – that community is at the heart of high school transformation – is a core element of the DC+XQ partnership. 

The Washington, D.C. community has driven the DC+XQ initiative through active participation in design teams, design feedback, and engagement from a broad assortment of community members. A diverse selection panel evaluated applications based on the boldness of design concepts, their potential to leverage the assets of the D.C. community to impact students, and their alignment with XQ’s design principles and learning outcomes. 

“Reading the DC+XQ High School Applications confirmed my belief that we have creative and dedicated communities in our DCPS high schools willing to reach and rise to the opportunity for their young people,” said review panelist Cathy Reilly, Director at S.H.A.P.P.E. (The Senior High Alliance for Parents Principals and Educators). “It will be up to the city and all of us to ensure promises are kept and that schools have the resources and support they need as the plans are refined and implemented.”

“It was evident in reading the redesign applications of DCPS high schools that the bold designs that schools developed are deeply informed by the needs, and the limitless possibilities of our communities,” added review panelist Trinity Washington University President Patricia McGuire. “I was inspired to be a member of the diverse selection committee because I know how important it is that our high schools prepare young people to succeed in college and career, especially in a rapidly changing world, to inspire and create the next youth catalysts in our community.”

All six schools that applied for the first cohort will receive continued support to drive the realization of their school models. This support will include: policy flexibilities and the autonomy to actualize school designs; human talent capacity through the Design Lab and XQ Institute to further power the partnership; and the monetary commitment to resource school models through the prototyping and implementation stages.

What’s Next for DC+XQ

Dunbar High School has developed a design concept centered on Afrofuturism, a social, political, and artistic movement that studies the past through a Black and brown cultural lens to imagine and reconstruct the future. Applying this lens to the high school experience will provide students with the opportunity to deepen their foundational academic literacies by using their knowledge of the past to construct their own futures. Dunbar’s design has the potential to create a new model for engaging and rigorous curriculum, through the use of cutting edge technology like augmented and virtual reality, and the rich resources right in the school’s own backyard of Washington, D.C. It is particularly significant that the first public high school for Black students in the U.S., founded in 1870, is positioned to carry on the legacy of preparing Black leaders by both honoring the past and preparing for the future. 

“Our vision of a school learning community focused on Afrofuturism honors the dreams and needs of our students, families, educators, and community members, as well as the inspiring historical roots of our school,” said Dunbar High School Principal Nadine Smith. “With extensive input from throughout our school community, we developed a design concept that will propel our students to design a future that reimagines and expands what is possible for Black and brown young people. We are so excited to turn this vision into a reality.”

Cardozo Education Campus’s redesign application elevated the opportunity to focus on entrepreneurship and financial independence. Building on the school’s historical roots as an all-Black business school, Cardozo will prepare each student to become an “inventor of their own learning path, career, and life.” The design team heard from students, families, and community members that a high-quality education must prepare students to attain financial liberation. Cardozo will begin weaving economic and entrepreneurial threads through core academic experiences, including interdisciplinary courses like those where students apply their math and writing skills to developing a business proposal.

“By enlisting the expertise of community leaders, entrepreneurs, and members of the Georgetown Business School and Howard University Law School, we developed a school redesign plan that infuses rigorous academic content with real world relevance toward Cardozo’s goal of empowerment,” said Cardozo Education Campus Principal Arthur Mola. “DCPS and XQ understand that those closest to schools know what we need to radically shift how we do school. We have a chance to challenge the norm, suspend assumptions, and design a model with a student voice at the center. With their support, we are ready to do this.”

DC+XQ is a districtwide, multi-year, community-driven partnership to rethink what high schools can be for all students and come together to make those visions a reality. DC+XQ provides support to design teams made up of educators, students, families, and community members so that they can define their biggest challenges and develop their best and boldest ideas into solutions. Through a collaborative design process, all DCPS high schools will design and implement innovative, rigorous learning models ensuring all students are prepared to succeed in college, career, and in life. This bold initiative in our nation’s capital can inspire communities everywhere and illustrate what is possible when an entire community and city come together for students. Learn more at DCXQ.US