Laurene Powell Jobs announces campaign to design new schools | News | Palo Alto Online |


Laurene Powell Jobs announces campaign to design new schools

With $50 million and an open call for ideas, 'Super School Project' hopes to bring change to America's public high schools

Palo Alto resident Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of technology pioneer Steve Jobs, is investing $50 million in an open-source campaign to innovate a place that has a reputation for struggling to evolve with the changing times: America's public high schools.

The XQ Institute, a new organization housed under Powell Jobs' Palo Alto-based philanthropic organization, Emerson Collective, announced last week the launch of the "Super School Project," described as a "national movement to reimagine high school."

"In the last hundred years, America has gone from a Model T to a Tesla and from a switchboard to a smartphone, but our public high schools have stayed frozen in time," the project website reads. "We believe American ingenuity can and must move education forward.

"This is a challenge, open to all, to build the Super Schools that will lead the way."

The XQ Institute will accept proposals over the next few months from any and all sectors, from educators and parents to business leaders. The institute will then partner with a select number of teams to provide "expert support" and funding with a plan "to support at least five schools over the next five years to turn their ideas into real Super Schools."

The website for the Super School challenge includes resources on 21st-century learning, the science of adolescent learning, frameworks around defining school culture and engaging students in the planning process, budget management and more. It urges interested participants to search out "audacious, unconventional, unconstrained ideas to reinvent the American high school."

Russlynn Ali, former assistant secretary for civil rights for the U.S. Department of Education and current managing director of education for the Emerson Collective, will serve as the XQ Institute's CEO. Powell Jobs is chairing the institute's board.

Partners include everyone from musician Yo Yo Ma and education advocate Geoffrey Canada to the National Center for Civic Innovation and San Francisco consulting company SY Partners.

Powell Jobs is also the co-founder of College Track, a comprehensive after-school program that recruits students from underserved communities and works with them from the summer before ninth grade through college graduation. The program began in East Palo Alto in 1995.

Beyond education, the Emerson Collective also focuses on immigration reform and social justice issues like food insecurity and the juvenile justice system.

Perhaps one line of the Emerson Collective's mission best describes the driving force behind its newest project: "We have an impatience with convention and a bias toward 'what if?'"

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2 people like this
Posted by She's great
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 15, 2015 at 8:23 pm

Russlynn Ali is a visionary and we are lucky that she is working in the Bay Area on important improvements to education. How great to see her moving into this incredibly exciting venture. Ali is the pre-eminent rock star of the education world. [Portion removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Loaded with Cash
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2015 at 8:10 am

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Helping Hand
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2015 at 8:57 am

I hope she has better success than Mark Zuckerberg did with his $100 million gift to the Newark (NJ) school system — which eaten up by the teachers' union, administrators, and consultants with no real impact. One outsider said, "The problem was that they tried to bring in an innovative new education model without clearly understanding the existing system."

6 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 16, 2015 at 11:27 am

Good for her! I hope this endeavor is wildly (and quickly)successful.

13 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 16, 2015 at 11:49 am

muttiallen is a registered user.

This will be great for the few thousand kids who get to go to a shiny new school with all kinds of expensive resources. But the rest of the kids I teach in East Palo Alto will continue with bare-minimum resources, and great teachers who teach in this low-paying district because they love the wonderful students.

4 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 16, 2015 at 11:51 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@muttiallen - what are the 2-3 top needs for the schools you teach at?

6 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2015 at 11:52 am

Public education in this country, like government in Washington D.C. is broken. This will be a massive undertaking and one that needs focused attention from someone or some group outside the system. Kudos to Laurene Powell Jobs for stepping up and taking the lead on this and surrounding herself with good people. Change will be difficult because of teacher unions and government interference, but if we want our children to succeed, it needs to happen now.

10 people like this
Posted by How about Cubberley?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2015 at 12:17 pm

How about working with PAUSD to create an innovative high school or middle school model at Cubberley?--smack dab in Mr. and Mrs. Job's home town? Both the school district and city have committed to work together on a plan for this aging facility. Start now. This is an opportunity to make it wonderful.

8 people like this
Posted by A Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2015 at 2:12 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 16, 2015 at 3:04 pm

I wish Ms Jobs would help our Palo Alto-based effort : Greater Good INternational - to educate 8-16 year old boys and girls in Haiti who are (a) illiterate and (b) have no access to education.


Greater Good International is a 501(c)(3) educational charity that provides education on the island of La Gonâve, Haiti to illiterate children who otherwise would have no access to education.

The school whose English name is Greater Good Haiti was launched by a Palo Alto, California school teacher, Kelly Kobza, who traveled to Haiti in the winter of 2010 to assist with post-earthquake relief efforts. While in Haiti, Kelly experienced Haiti’s crushing poverty and high illiteracy. At the urging of the local leader of the town of Anse-à-Galets, Kelly started the school, (in Creole) Pi Gwo Byen, in Anse-à-Galets.


 From 12 students and one teacher in the first year, we are now teaching 36 students with three teachers.
 62% of those taking the national matriculation exam passed last year compared to the national rate of 20%. With further work on our methodology, 100% passed this year.
 Everyone at the school has a nourishing hot meal every day and training in personal hygiene practices.

Details about Greater Good Haiti’s achievements are at:
Web Link and
Web Link.

The school’s web site is at

Current Needs

Capital Funding
 Purchase the land and building currently leased to the school by exercising our purchase option
 Upgrade the school building in order to ensure and expand our capacity to continue our educational programs
 Drill a well to provide a permanent water supply to the compound

Buying the land and buildings will eliminate a substantial rental payment and allow for funds to go directly into instruction instead.

Annual Funding
 Ensure continuation of our school program

Long Term Goal

 Establish similar fast-track schools in the other villages where we have been asked for help
 Offer adult night school

3 people like this
Posted by PhD in Education
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2015 at 3:26 pm

I recommend "Mission High" by Kristina Rizga. It discusses one high school in San Francisco and why/how it is successful for its students (mostly Latino immigrants) and teachers in spite of low standardized test scores. It would be a good model for a "Super School."

1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2015 at 3:34 pm

The timing of this announcement is quite interesting ;-)

6 people like this
Posted by volunteer librarian
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 16, 2015 at 9:37 pm

@ slow down

I see Muttiallen hasn't had a chance to respond - but I volunteer as a librarian in one of the East Palo Alto elementary schools. There is ZERO - literally ZERO budge for the library. It's run by volunteers - and 4 years ago there wasn't a library AT ALL. Now there are a good number of books - a lot of them donated - but it doesn't come close to any PAUSD elementary school library.

If you want to help - go to Amazon and chose Brentwood Academy and buy books from the wish list. The books on the list are the ones needed - and while donations are thoughtful, at this point the process it's better to have the specific books listed. The library space is limited (it's just one large classroom). The books on the wish list have been carefully chosen to fill in the gaps and are ones that the kids ask for. Books for the 4 and 5 grade level are particularly in need. And I don't know if the Diary of A Wimpy Kid series is on the wish list, but we never have enough of those.

One book makes a difference.

I believe there are other elementary schools in EPA/E Menlo Park with NO LIBRARY AT ALL.

7 people like this
Posted by Power of continuous improvement
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2015 at 11:33 pm

One of the most important reforms that could help ALL school districts is giving school districts the benefits of the same mechanisms that make our democracy work.

The checks and balances of our branches of government were a brilliant innovation. Absolutely power corrupts absolutely, as we know. School districts were set up for local control. But without any comparable mechanisms for checks and balances such as we have at state and federal levels, school districts end up insular from above and below. There is no equivalent power of the populace like even referendum or initiative in school districts. There is no low-key dispute resolution forum equivalent to small claims court. The board regs say they are "binding" - but it's almost legally and practically meaningless. Schools should have to answer more directly to families. If that were the case, and if families had better, more enforceable recourse to solve problems, this nation would finally have the conditions for innovation across the nation. If families are better able to correct the direction of the ships that are their schools, in order to better meet the local needs, in realistic time spans to help their kids, then the entire nation would be one big laboratory of educational innovation.

Laws that work the best are laws that give people the ability to make the right thing happen at the level of every interaction, without being overwhelmed by the effort.

I hope a good model for innovative schools come from this. I have my own ideas that I will put forward. But working on ways to give school districts the benefits of democratic checks and balances, giving families the local control intended in the spirit of school district formation -- that would be the seed of not just one-time change, but continuous evolution and improvement across the nation.

Like this comment
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2015 at 3:59 am

Don't know how I missed this article, but this is a great idea.
I hope for the best.

Unfortunately, I don't see much happening, because the leveraging
of computer aided instruction and individual help as well as
feeding back problems and hard spots to improve the instruction
has been possible and people have been working on it for a long
time now ... and virtually nothing. Khan Academy ... I don't hear
much from that and it was a real big thing ... and it has been a long
time now.

And of course it would put lots of school administrators out of

I really wonder if we really want an educated critical thinking
populace, or do we just say we do?

5 people like this
Posted by Power of continuous improvement
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2015 at 5:32 am

@Plane speaker,
Technology is already changing education - we just don't see it as much in Palo Alto because our schools have less incentive to innovate.

Nationally there are now a growing number of "unschoolers" - almost half as many students are in homeschool as in private school, and it's growing. Initially, homeschool was for religious reasons, but now the majority who homeschool do so to innovate. Wired Magazine even did an article about how many people in Silicon Valley are doing this now, and another imploring geeks to stop abandoning the schools and fix them instead (tried, good luck with that). Sometimes the best way to change an ossified institution is to show what can be done from oitside, which appears to be what Powell Jobs is aiming for.

Khan Academy is growing. Many people use it along with a burgeoning number of other resources now available to learn math at a self-paced course. The Internet allows for virtual communities of educational innovation. Kids want to learn things not available in school can set up microschools and pool resources just for specific endeavors.

How to marry that innovation with the principles of public education? Many schools are setting up programs for independent learners. Palo Alto will be following not leading in that regard since we seem to atill have a control freakish leadership that even a student mental health crisis cannot break. No matter what, good teachers will be in demand - ideally the job will look very much more like mentorship than lecturing, though.

Like this comment
Posted by Scott Montague
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2015 at 1:26 pm

What a great vision from Laurene and the XQ folks.

I believe in you... Ignore those who don't.

As a business owner, I am looking for new employees (past students) who can "apply" knowledge to problems they encounter. Exercises that are relevant and meaningful to kids "today" can set them off in an inspirational direction.

Just look at the early exposure the Google Science Fair winner had from their Grandfather. I think their success is because they could answer "why am I learning this?". That energy is addictive and if applied early enough can nudge young minds into the direction of Engineering. Creating new things from knowledge.

We believe so strongly in this, we actually did something about it. We are trying to have kids apply their lessons to the wild-life accessible in every backyard... they will all find dozens of insects as diverse as anything one can imagine. Body structures inspire robotic design, wings give meaning to the theory of flight and fluid-dynamics, compound eyes provide thoughts around wavelengths of light, how do fire-flies glow? What chemical reaction is involved and how do they get those chemicals from things they eat? Why do fruit-fly wings become hairy to swim through the air?

We invite everyone to take a look if it is something that might interest you.
Web Link

You can see our big vision picture here
Web Link

I admire Laurene taking action, it must feel very satisfying to be able to make a difference. I think it is the key to happiness.


3 people like this
Posted by Conundrumic
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 24, 2015 at 1:44 pm

"I hope she has better success than Mark Zuckerberg did with his $100 million gift to the Newark (NJ) school system"

Zuckerberg's colossal NJ failure was caused by his failure to do his homework. He had no concept of the cultural/legal environment he was butting into. Sets a terrible example for students everywhere.

The basic problem is endemic and structural. American schools have been "failing" and under continual reform for a century. Our contemporary reformers are the products of those failed schools, and thus lack the education they need to fix the education system.

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