EASTPORT, Maine — A Silicon Valley, California, resident is so in love with Eastport that she suggested a collaboration among educators on both coasts.
Caitlin Hoffman of California was in Eastport last summer when she saw an ad in the New York Times for the XQ Super School contest, which is funded by Lauren Powell Jobs, wife of the late Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple Inc.
The contest seeks ideas for completely reinventing and transforming the model for public high schools, with the five best ideas submitted being awarded $10 million each to further pursue their plans.
“Education is so broken and this is such a great opportunity,” Hoffman said, adding she had fallen in love with Eastport and its community during her visit.
She returned to Eastport in October to pitch the idea of a collaboration on the contest to the community, meeting with school officials and students in the process. She returned again in February to help them meet the initial Feb. 11 contest deadline.
“We had to move really fast,” said Hoffman, adding she was unfortunately unable to come to Eastport to help with the current phase of planning.
“I don’t know if we would have even heard about the contest [without Hoffman],” said Jon Calame, an Eastport School Committee member and parent who now serves as captain of the team entered in the competition.
“Not many of us were paying attention and none of us thought it would go anywhere,” Calame said.
Contestants were asked to “rethink” the high school experience based on what Calame described as the “cynical but perhaps not faulty assumption that high school has got a lot of problems.”
With Hoffman’s help, Calame and a team of Eastport residents proposed the PACT, or the Pacific Atlantic Community Technology School. It would be a part of Shead High School, which currently has about 100 students.
Calame said students from both coasts would be able to spend time learning on the opposite coast by opting into the PACT school. They would then participate in “campaigns” asking them to solve a question or problem such as, “How can Maine fishermen avoid overfishing and harming the fisheries?”
Teams of five to 10 students and instructors would investigate the topic and then present their findings and receive critiques from other teams of students, he said.
“We’re saying nobody knows the answers and we’re all co-investigating,” he said.
Hoffman is the owner of All Minds Matter, an education center that offers academic coaching for students that is integrated with schools and teachers. Because All Minds Matter is for profit, however, Shead can’t partner directly with it. But, Shead may be able to partner with a nonprofit arm which could be formed as part of the company to provide the West Coast portion of the bicoastal school, Hoffman said.
That detail and many other specifics have yet to be worked out, though the team needs to have them in place by the next deadline in the contest, which is May 23, Calame said. The team also will need to provide the contest organizers with specifics on how the team would manage the endowment, the curriculum, any building projects, teacher recruitment, performance assessment, technology and governance.
“They’re asking us to design an entire school. It’s inventing it from the ground up,” Calame said.
The group of 348 semifinalists will be culled to 50 finalists, to be announced July 30. PACT team members believe Shead is the only semifinalist from Maine, but XQ project organizers did not release a list and would not confirm it.
The five winners then will be announced Aug. 4, according to a news release issued by Coleman Brice, a parent and member of the PACT team.
Hoffman said she was not surprised the proposal was named a semifinalist.
“I think XQ saw that we put together something valid,” she said.
Shead Principal Paul Theriault said the school was “energized by this incentive to think larger.”
Looking ahead at this next round, he said, “We’re not at all worried — we have insights and resources within our learning community that many cities cannot dream of.”
Regardless of how far they get in the competition, Theriault said this is a great experience.
“Whether or not we arrive at the winners’ circle in August, Eastport schools will be strengthened by this kind of full-sprint, no-holds-barred exploration,” he said.