Endeavor Academy re-imagines York City education

Alyssa Jackson
  • Several local teachers and administrators are participating in the Super School Project.
  • Endeavor Academy has reached the semifinal stage of the competition.
  • If the Endeavor Academy team wins, they will receive $10 million over 5 years to start a school.

A local team of teachers, school administrators and community members hopes to win a nationwide contest challenging people to think creatively and create "super schools" in their communities.

William Penn High School seniors listen during their graduation ceremony on June 9, 2016.Amanda J. Cain photo

Team member and spokesman Aaron Kraft said the York County group is proposing the Endeavor Academy, a high school that would provide consistency in students' lives by seeing one group of youths through all four years of high school before accepting any more students.

The team has made it to the semifinal round of The Super School Project competition, which is sponsored by XQ Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to re-imagining education in America. The winning team will receive $10 million over the course of five years to help fund its school.

According to Kraft, the project focuses on communities that need a new approach to learning, and he says there is no place that needs a new take on education like York City, where the school would be located.

Seven hundred applications were submitted for The Super School Project, and over the past several months there have been rounds of judging that eliminated a number of ideas, according to a news release from XQ Institute.

Currently, the Endeavor Academy team is one of 348 proposals still being considered. The team will find out July 20 if it makes it to the finals.

The initial funding for XQ Institute comes from the Emerson Collective, an organization also committed to improving the quality of public education founded and led by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Endeavor Academy: Kraft said there is a team of seven to nine members working on the plans and ideas for Endeavor Academy; however, they all wished to remain anonymous because many of them still work at school districts in York County and were fearful of losing their jobs or harming a relationship with their current employer.

For that reason, Kraft was the only member willing to speak about the project, but he stressed the ideas and work are a group effort.

Endeavor Academy's possible future logo. The school may be established in York City if a team of teachers and administrators wins a national competition.

Kraft, who previously worked at Crispus Attucks YouthBuild Charter School as a case manager, said one of the main goals for Endeavor Academy is consistency. This consistency would be key for both students and teachers.

Endeavor would enroll 90 students in their freshman year and then not admit any more students until that class graduated. In addition, the school would try to stress long-term contracts with the faculty and staff to ensure that all of them are there for the entire four years.

"Consistency is our thing, so we don't want there to be change or turnover," Kraft said. "My own personal opinion is that when you don't have that consistency, you lose them, because a lot of them don't have that consistency anywhere else. School is in their lives one way or another, so why not make that the most consistent thing that you can?"

Instruction: Endeavor Academy, if established, also would work on a year-round schedule to ensure there is no time for students to regress. According to Oxford Learning, an average of six weeks each fall are spent trying to re-teach kids what they learned the previous year. The Endeavor Academy team hopes to combat this by having instruction for four to five weeks and then taking one week off, rather than a summer break.

The week off would not only give teachers a time to rest, Kraft explained, but also give the school time to adjust teaching styles or lesson plans if they aren't working for the students.

The school day also  would be structured to provide students with additional support: The beginning of the day would be geared toward traditional education, while the second half of the day would be an opportunity for kids to meet with teachers one on one for help in subjects in which they're struggling.

If students don't need extra help, the second half of the day could be used for special projects or to work with educators on things the students are passionate about.

"We give them the choice for what they want to do, because if there is a choice they will be more likely to follow through with it," Kraft said. "It won't take away from any class."

While the winnings from the competition would completely cover the cost of the school for five years, Kraft said that with the right amount of support and a little restructuring, Endeavor Academy could exist without winning the contest. At this point, the team is unsure if it would be an independent school or a charter school.

Super Schools: XQ Institute launched the XQ Super Schools Challenge in September, and in April the 700 applicants were cut in half for the semifinal stage, bringing the number of teams to the 348 that are currently still competing. After finalists are announced, winners will be announced in early August.

The XQ Super Schools project will ultimately have at least five winners, though XQ Institute has stated that it might choose more winners based on the number of applications they've received and their quality.

The whole idea, according to Marlene Castro, XQ's manager of student organization and community relations, is to completely re-imagine high schools across the nation to better fit with the world today.

"Our (school) system was developed in a world that we no longer live in, during times that we don't live in today," Castro explained.

For the contest, the Endeavor Academy team has had to fill out 30 to 40 pages describing the school and its mission, as well as the school schedule, a budget and more details. The XQ Super Schools competition asks the teams a series of questions related to the projects and uses the answers, which must align to the XQ principals, to decide which teams move to the next round.

One of the major principals, according to Castro, is involving student voices in the projects as well.

"It's all about how can students be a part of re-imagining at the redesign table," Castro said. "It's been inspiring to see how students get involved, both as the receivers and as the builders of education."