ANNAPOLIS — A possible $10 million grant is helping policymakers dream of a grand vision for the new Frederick High School campus.
The future could include a high school focused on college and career readiness through experience and personalized learning plans rather than standardized testing. There could be a school where students could craft their own schedules and come and go from campus from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Students could hold jobs or focus on a particular path toward college. Everyone would have their own detailed “Plan for Future Success,” along with mentors from the community.
Graduation rates would increase and students would be better prepared for college or the workforce, according to supporters.
That vision got a boost this week when the Maryland Senate passed a bill supporting the establishment of a Linking Youth to New Experiences (LYNX) High School at the Frederick High School campus.
The bill would exempt the new school from many state requirements as part of a pilot program that could be extended to other schools across the state.
The LYNX pilot program was sparked by “XQ: The Super School Project,” a $50 million grant competition announced by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Schools with a winning vision to “create the new American high school” could walk away with $10 million.
The bill in Annapolis — which now heads to the House of Delegates — could help make it all happen.
And now, with the excitement over the grant application, supporters say they want to see the program begin with or without the XQ grant.
The team behind Maryland’s XQ proposal is headed by Nancy Grasmick, a former Maryland state superintendent of schools.
Frederick High School was chosen as the potential grant site this winter, after a bill had been introduced in the General Assembly to allow for a pilot program in the state.
While Frederick County’s overall four-year high school dropout rate of 3.9 percent is lower than the state average of 8 percent, the number spikes at Frederick High School. There, about 12 percent of students don’t earn diplomas with their classmates. The rate is higher for Latino students (16.9 percent) and higher yet for African-American students (20.5 percent).
Add to that mix a school under construction that could be tailored to the grant’s vision, and Frederick became an ideal location, Grasmick said.
“It wasn’t chasing the money that motivated us. It was the real substance of what this could mean for our students,” she said.
The bill that would allow the change is sponsored by Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore City, and Frederick Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3.
“Interest-based learning opportunities are essential for our students. Students see the connection between what they learn and how it is connected to their future careers,” said Pugh, who benefited from a half-day high school schedule that allowed her to work as well.
Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Theresa Alban and Frederick High School teacher Michelle Shearer came to Annapolis to support the bill this month. The Frederick County Board of Education sent a letter stating that it fully supports the legislation. There was no opposition to the bill.
Shearer, who teaches chemistry and math at Frederick High, said she traveled around the country and the world when she was named National Teacher of the Year in 2011. She witnessed a number of inspiring programs, but is particularly excited about the LYNX pilot because it would extend personalized education goals to each of the approximately 1,300 students on campus.
“Our students have big dreams. I know this because I teach them every day. ... What they want is flexibility. What they want is opportunity. What they want is the freedom to direct their own learning,” Shearer said.
Details of the LYNX program are still being worked out, but the plan is moving forward.
Shearer is working with a team of other educators and school support staff. They are looking at how their schedules could be created to allow the flexible school hours envisioned without violating collective bargaining agreements already in place.
The LYNX school would keep teacher certification requirements, but would have the flexibility to use professors from county colleges or leaders from the business community for instruction, as well.
Proposals for the XQ grants are still being considered nationally and the ultimate winners are expected to be announced in August.