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Design Lab


As part of the DCPS Strategic Plan, the Design Lab launched in January 2018 to provide forward-thinking school leaders and their teams with the network, resources, and support they need to boldly reimagine their schools. The Design Lab is grounded in human-centered design practices and the belief that individual school communities are uniquely positioned to respond to the needs of their students furthest from opportunity.

Design Principles

While schools in The Design Lab have visions intentionally varied due to their communities’ unique needs and interests, all Design Lab schools are grounded in the following Design Principles:

  • Equitable: Our schools create new possibilities by redesigning the learning experience to meet the needs of all students and empower them to achieve their dreams.
  • Bold and Innovative: Our schools have the courage to dream big and boldly, learn from failure, and continuously improve to ensure all students are prepared to succeed in a rapidly changing society.
  • Community-Driven: Our schools are designed with students, staff, and community members at the table. Ongoing collaboration among students and adults is essential.
  • Focused on the Whole Child: Our schools go beyond teaching fundamental skills to intentionally redefine and expand what it means to be a successful learner. Our schools develop students who think critically and creatively, and educators are attuned to their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.
  • Learner-Driven: Our schools design authentic learning experiences driven by students’ interests, passions, skills, and needs to maximize the power of student agency and foster a lifelong love of learning.
  • Full of Love and Joy: Our schools are designed with intention so that students feel loved, nurtured, safe, and empowered.

Group of educators with wearing Design Lab t-shirts

In the first stage of The Design Lab, 11 schools joined the inaugural Design Lab Cohort, representing seven wards of the city. The experiences in the inaugural Design Lab Cohort worked to:

  • Foster a community of collaboration and innovation across the cohort of school teams.
  • Provide schools with the opportunity to ideate, prototype and test their redesign components.
  • Engage school teams in rigorous learning experiences that support envisioning and implementing new instructional models to increase student achievement through ongoing workshops and school visits.
  • Provide school teams with concierge support in implementing their vision through responsive and differentiated coaching, support and resources.

The inaugural Design Lab schools were:

  • Ballou STAY HS
  • Drew ES
  • Garrison ES
  • Hearst ES
  • Hendley ES
  • Langley ES
  • Ludlow-Taylor ES
  • Sousa MS
  • Tubman ES
  • Turner ES
  • Walker-Jones EC


Group photo in an school

In December 2018, schools received their first STAR ratings under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and a subset of schools known as Comprehensive Support Schools were identified as in need of more targeted and intensive improvement supports. After an in-depth Needs Assessment process, Anacostia and Ballou High Schools were selected by the Chancellor for Redesign and joined the Design Lab as a core element of their transformation strategies. Anacostia and Ballou leveraged SY19-20 as a design incubation year to engage their communities, reimagine their school models, and begin piloting potential new strategies. In SY20-21, both schools formally launched their new models. 

To learn more about the first year of Redesign, referred to as The Design Incubation Year, please see our playbook . To learn more about how to involve students in Redesign, please see our playbook .


Inspired by the Redesign efforts at Anacostia and Ballou High Schools, DC + XQ hopes to transform high schools throughout the entire DCPS network through a similar community-driven design journey. DC+XQ is a districtwide, multi-year, community-driven partnership to rethink what high schools can be for all students, effectively expanding the Redesign work at Anacostia and Ballou to all interested high schools. The purpose of DC+XQ is to provide support to design teams made up of educators, students, families, and community members so that they can define their biggest challenges and translate their best and boldest ideas into solutions. DC+XQ is a shared commitment and a comprehensive set of resources that will empower educators, students, families, and community members to lead this effort. DC+XQ is an opportunity to rethink every aspect of the high school experience from programming and school culture to thematic focus areas. This could lead to new courses of study, innovative professional development for staff, more flexible scheduling, expanded career pathways, new rigorous and exciting learning opportunities aligned to student interests, powerful partnerships, and much more. Simultaneously, we will ensure that our district systems and structures evolve to seed new ideas and better cultivate and accelerate the innovation already underway.

So far, six schools have joined the DC+XQ Redesign Journey:

  • Cardozo EC
  • Columbia Heights EC
  • Coolidge HS
  • Dunbar HS
  • H.D. Woodson HS
  • Ron Brown College Preparatory HS

To learn more about DC + XQ and sign up to receive updates, .

Where can I learn more?

For more information on DCPS Design Lab, please email [email protected], follow us on Twitter , or follow us on Instagram .

Watch our designs in action!

Media coverage of our designs!

DC+XQ School Announcements in and