XQ Super School Live: Washington Leadership Academy
As they move from class to class, students don’t have to walk silently in lines; they’re allowed to listen to headphones when they’re working independently in class; and they can slouch a little bit. It’s a reflection of an evolution away from the no-excuses approach in the charter-school world. Stacy Kane, Washington Leadership Academy’s executive director, said that as she and her colleagues visited other schools to build theirs, they saw graduates of no-excuses schools struggling with self-advocacy and self-direction. “The culture we’re trying to build here is not a lockdown, no-excuses culture. It’s a relationship culture,” Kane said.The school sees itself as a place to refine and share ideas that could work anywhere. But the founders want to do more than be an example, they want to use the XQ money to create a library of lessons and courses, delivered via virtual-reality technology, that other schools can use. Andrew said one of their first projects will be to create virtual-reality content for schools nationwide, such as a virtual-reality chemistry lab that could give hundreds of thousands of students a chance to learn science hands-on. Washington Leadership Academy also is experimenting with a new approach to staffing, tapping into the freelance “gig economy” to hire part-time teachers with specific, hard-to-find skills, such as Silicon Valley programmers who don’t want to leave their jobs but could teach a class remotely. In the-flesh freelancers are teaching many of the elective classes — which include photography, DJing and criminal forensics — that students take at the end of each long, 8:30-to-5 day. The school also plans for all of its students to take computer science for four years, an effort to equip them with skills that are meant to set them apart as they go off to college and look for jobs.
By next school year, Washington Leadership Academy plans to more than quadruple the number of African American students in the city who have access to Advanced Placement computer science. In 2015, there were just 30 black students who took an AP exam in computer science. There are 110 freshmen at Washington Leadership Academy this year; almost all of them are black, and the school plans for each of them to be ready to take an AP exam in computer science at the end of their sophomore year.
Khalilah Sutton, 13, said she was excited about Washington Leadership Academy because she wants to work in the tech industry. Coding is one of her electives, in addition to her basic computer science course. “I chose this school because they had opportunities here that would help me achieve what I want to do later in life,” she said.