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Eastport Maine Overcomes Odds, Joins Final 50 Seeking $10m National XQ Prize

Small Island Community makes a PACT
  • <strong>PACT logo</strong>
  • <strong>XQ Super School Project logo</strong>
  • <strong>Pictured: PACT spokesperson Damon Weston</strong>

"It is flattering to see that the XQ Super School jury has found our vision for public education to be promising - Weston noted, "we are encouraged and invigorated!"

    EASTPORT, ME, July 22, 2016 /24-7PressRelease/ -- In a high-profile national contest to "rethink high school," the odds were not on the side of Eastport, Maine -- a remote rural community with a population of 1,294 and a high school enrollment of 103.

Yet in the early hours of July 21st, the easternmost city in the United States received a welcome message from the XQ Institute, funded by Laurene Powell Jobs: Eastport's proposed Pacific Atlantic Community Technology (PACT) school was chosen as one of 50 finalists nationwide. To get there, XQ Super School Project jurors ranked the PACT proposal above hundreds of competing concepts from larger urban school districts and specialized charters.

As smoke from the semifinal round clears, Eastport's PACT stands alone in the state of Maine as it vies to become one of five winning teams to be be announced in early August -- each of which will receive $10 million over five years to build a Super School tailored to its students' needs.

A Cinderella story? Not really, says Paul Theriault, Eastport School System's Principal. "Being small and far from a large city does not mean we are starved for good ideas," Theriault said. "Our schools are full of creative problem-solvers, because we have to confront big challenges without big funding every day."

As a result, the unconventional thinking required by the XQ Super School Project did not throw Theriault's volunteer project team off balance.

"We saw our community rally around this chance," said Shead H.S. history teacher and PACT project spokesperson Damon Weston, "and when we needed something that we could not find locally, far-flung friends and advisors assisted us at every turn. Parents, students and school staff here seem to agree that rural education could benefit from offering a radically different approach."

That approach is encapsulated in the PACT school proposal, which invites participating students to join a "campaign" team, then tackle a problem comprehensively -- rather than attend conventional classes. In this more open-ended, exploratory format, students and teachers are "co-investigators" who explore the real-world problems, devise practical responses, and present their findings publicly.

To overcome the limitations inherent to its rural setting and small student body, the PACT school was imagined from the outset as a bi-coastal program headquartered in Maine with students, instructors, and other resources pooled between partnering schools. If launched with XQ Institute funds, two high schools in the Silicon Valley region of California will collaborate with Eastport's Shead High through PACT campaign teams. These teams will be in the field more than in the classroom, and they will go wherever anchoring questions point them.

The PACT itself would be a modular, optional pathway within the existing partner high schools -- not replacing the existing curriculum, but expanding and strengthening it. The expectation is that students eager to join a PACT research and learning campaign team will opt into the program from throughout eastern Maine, northern California, and well beyond.

As for the competition ahead, the PACT working team based in Eastport is excited, hopeful and confident.

"It is flattering to see that the XQ Super School jury has found our vision for public education to be promising," Weston noted. "We are encouraged and invigorated across the whole Eastport community, and will work to provide our students with this kind of opportunity because the challenges and possibilities are exciting both to them and to us."

Five final contest winners will be announced nationally on 4 August 2016. The "XQ: The Super School Project" CEO and founder is Russlynn Ali, former Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, notes that "Everyone involved in the XQ movement believes that high school education is fundamental to a vital nation. We are awed by the enthusiasm, optimism and renewed respect for public education reflected in so many of the applications. No prize, no matter how large, can create that kind of authentic renewal of faith and hope. XQ didn't make that, this challenge is only a vehicle for teams and communities to do it themselves."

Inquiries about the PACT school and its progress through the XQ Institute contest may be directed to project spokesperson Damon Weston, dweston@shead.org, mobile (207) 214-4164.


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Colie Brice
ASBURY MEDIA

Eastport, ME
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