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ACPS named finalist for grant to redesign education

ACPS named finalist for grant to redesign education

Team's proposal calls for 'in-the-field' learning opportunities and a central hub

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Albemarle County Public Schools has been named a finalist in a national competition for up to $10 million in grant funding with the purpose of redesigning high school education.

A team from the county schools competing in The XQ: Super School Project was announced Tuesday as one of 50 finalists nationwide, according to a news release from the county school division.

The XQ Institute, chaired by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs, will narrow down the list to five winners in August. The competition winners will receive $2 million apiece in grant money per year for up to five years, according to the release.

Nearly 10,000 people comprising 700 teams submitted applications for the competition in September.

The final five winners are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

In its proposal for CONNEXT, Albemarle's team, it would provide students with an individual learning advisory committee made up of teachers, parents, members of the community and mentors, according to the release. Students in the program would receive "on-site and in-the-field learning opportunities developed by their committee."

The program also calls for a central location that would serve as a hub for some classes. Students also would use locations such as libraries, businesses and civic, environmental and public-service organizations as resources for learning.

Chad Ratliff, director of instructional programs for the county schools, calls this model a more natural way of learning and says that the current model of schooling only allows students to learn content in "isolated segments."

"This allows students to not only integrate their learning opportunities but also have some real voice and choice and how they might approach those," he said.

Ratliff said students using this program could, for example, opt into classes at one of the high schools in a traditional way but also choose to go out into the community for a work-based learning experience or work on a project, all based on their learning interests.

"So it really is a chart-your-own-high-school experience," he said.

If Albemarle is announced as one of the winners of the grant, Ratliff said the division will use the 2016-17 school year to study and plan for the pilot year of the program in 2017-18.

During the planning period, Ratliff said it would be used to "set the stage" for the pilot year, which would consist of 75 students.

Frank Squillace, vice president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he's not surprised Albemarle has made it this far in the competition due to a lot of its "cutting-edge" work in education.

Squillace said the chamber's belief is that starting younger students with a basis of entrepreneurship, business and innovation is beneficial, and that this program could help with that.

Carolyn Herget, an office associate for the county schools and the mother of a recent Western Albemarle High School graduate, said this program would be a great way for students to get real-world experience and develop skills such as teamwork, problem solving, task management and organization along the way.

"It's such a great opportunity for the students," she said, "and if it would come to fruition, it would just be phenomenal."

Michael Bragg can be reached at mbragg@dailyprogress.com or (434) 978-7243.

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