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Ginger Spickler

Chris Terrill named Executive Director of Crosstown High

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The Board of Directors of Crosstown High (XTH), the forthcoming public charter school that will be located inside Crosstown Concourse, has announced that it has selected Chris Terrill to be its Executive Director.

Mr. Terrill comes to Crosstown High from Mooresville, North Carolina, where he has served as the Head of Schools for Pine Lake Preparatory since June 2012. Prior to that, he was the Founding Principal of both Oasis Middle School and Oasis High School in Cape Coral, Florida. He began his career as an administrator as the Principal of Hill City Middle School and Elementary School in Hill City, Kansas. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Friends University and a Masters Degree in School Leadership from Baker University.

Chris Terrill and his wife Keena, also an educator, are the parents of four daughters, two of whom are in college. The Terrills and their two youngest daughters will relocate to Memphis this summer and will reside in an apartment inside Crosstown Concourse.

As the inaugural Executive Director of Crosstown High, Terrill will, in conjunction with the Board and other members of his school leadership team, administer the curriculum, instructional programs, standards, and promote the school’s unique vision of project-based learning and use of personalized learning plans for its eventual co-ed student body of 500 scholars.

He will be responsible for oversight and development of all academic programs and curricula; faculty and staff hiring, professional development, compensation, other personnel matters; and student enrollment, attendance, and discipline, and will also oversee budgeting, financial management, fundraising, technology, and management of school facilities. Terrill will also assist and guide the Board in making decisions in all areas covered under school governance and contract guidelines with the Shelby County Schools district.

Crosstown High plans to welcome its first class of students in Fall 2018.

“My career has been driven by a desire to create exceptional educational experiences for young people that prepare them for the challenges of our rapidly evolving world, regardless of their socio-economic background. I look forward to utilizing every bit of my experience and abilities to do just that in the biggest and best way possible for the students of Crosstown High,” said Terrill. “On every level, Crosstown High and the entire Crosstown Concourse project are about creating the future. This is truly the opportunity of a lifetime for me.”

“It was clear from our very first conversation with Chris that he possessed not only the kind of strong, successful track record that would make him a desirable hire at any school, but he also has incredible imagination for what Crosstown High needs to become — a diverse, challenging school where students are deeply engaged in learning, personal growth, and creativity,” said XTH Board member Meg Crosby, who chaired the selection committee. “He brings a wealth of on-the-ground and in-the-classroom experience and couples it with a passion for new models and systems of instruction that make him an ideal fit Crosstown High. We are very excited to work with him to build this unique school.”

“A public high school at Crosstown Concourse has been under discussion for years. Every single one of its tenants and founding partners agree that it is essential to capturing, amplifying, and passing forward the immense value that this remarkable and special project will generate,” says John Smarrelli, Jr., Chairman of the XTH Board of Directors. “Chris understands that on an intuitive level, and he is fearless about jumping into a start-up situation and getting to work.”

A search for Crosstown High’s Principal is ongoing. Interested applicants are encouraged to view the qualifications and apply at


Listening and Learning with Design Thinking

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October 1 was pretty much a perfect day to be outside, but despite the gorgeous weather, about 30 students, parents, educators and other community members gathered at story booth, across the street from Crosstown Concourse, to participate in the first-ever Crosstown High Design Thinking Workshop.

Design Thinking is a way of tackling challenges by listening deeply to your end users to find out what they want and need out of a product or experience. In our case…high school! From the beginning, the Crosstown High design team has sought input from the community to learn how we can create a high school that will engage students in meaningful learning to prepare them for their futures. The Design Thinking Workshop helped us continue this deep listening process.


Click photo to watch our Design Thinking Workshop Video!

So, what did we learn from the students during the workshop? 

  • They want opportunities to form real relationships with teachers and administrators. They need spaces where they can interact with adults and form mentorships (and friendships). Students want less time spent reviewing rules and codes of conduct — “it is distracting and shifts the focus from learning to policing.”
  • Students want more focus on incorporating “the outside world.” They seek opportunities to help the community as part of their curriculum, and to participate in clubs centered around “what we really care about” such as sustainability, gender issues, civil rights, and urban art. They also want more events and initiatives involving other Memphis schools.
  • A school’s physical environment and surrounding spaces are really important. Inside, students want lots of natural light and spaces that are comfortable and inviting — that means no rows of cramped desks. They crave big rooms with space to move around in, in which they can study in different ways (alone and collaboratively). It’s also important that there be a place where they can get outside and get fresh air.
  • Students want to learn in new ways. They asked for alternatives to the lecture model — more discussions and debate. They want hands-on learning experiences.
  • Downtime is important — they need time during the school day to take a breather. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to get away from teachers. One student asked for a student and teacher lounge!

Are you a student? What do you hope to see in Crosstown High? Leave your reply below!

XTH Design Thinking Workshop 10.1.2016

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The vision for Crosstown High came from talking with hundreds of Memphians about what the high school of the future should look like. To guide us, we used a process called Design Thinking. Now that we have approval to open our school in 2018, we want to keep the conversation going!

You’re invited to join us for the first-ever Crosstown High Design Thinking Workshop at story booth (438 N. Cleveland) on Saturday, October 1, 10 am – 3:30 pm. Registration is limited to about 30 participants.


Photo: Joanna Zhang

The good people at Southern Growth Studio will lead us through a workshop that will help us explore ways to keep student voice at the heart of Crosstown High. We’ll explore questions like:

  • How do we ensure student voice influences the development of Crosstown High?
  • How can the school’s physical environment best support students?
  • What’s the best way to recruit a truly diverse student body?

This will be a fast-paced, highly interactive day so come ready to jump in!


  • Students (6th grade and up), educators and parents are welcome
  • Lunch, snacks and drinks provided
  • Workshops like this are usually pricey, but this one’s FREE!
  • We also need a few high school students who’d be willing to serve as interview subjects to come in the morning (10-11:50) and ideally return in the afternoon (2:15-3:00 pm).


*Never heard of Design Thinking? Learn more in this short video!

XQ Super School Project Winners Announced

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From Justin Jamerson, member of the Crosstown High Board of Directors and participant in the Memphis XQ Super Schools Challenge:

Today it was announced that Crosstown High’s application for the XQ Super School Project was not selected as one of the ten grand prize winners in the competition. While we are obviously disappointed at the news, we are still very grateful to the XQ Institute for the opportunity this process has given us. Out of almost 700 initial applicants, we are extremely proud to have made it to the final fifty teams.  We remain excited about the content of our application and are hard at work on making it a reality for our inaugural class of 9th graders in 2018. The months of hard work by dozens of students, parents, teachers, and community members on our XQ team have created a terrific foundation on which we will continue to build.

We are especially grateful for the partnership of Crosstown Concourse’s leaders and their tenants throughout this process. There is no better home for this school than Crosstown Concourse. We are eager to see what happens when high school students are able to put their education into practice by working on real-world challenges with some of the most innovative businesses and nonprofits in our city.

Crosstown High will be a new type of school unique to Memphis.  It will be a place where young people are empowered and encouraged to learn in an environment that is collaborative, conscientious, and supported. There are many great schools in Memphis, but the vision of the Crosstown High XQ team was to bring a unique learning environment to the city. Through the XQ Super School Project, the school has been designed as nothing less than a model for the future of education. We hope that our investment will pay dividends not only for our own students at Crosstown High, but for the entire Memphis region.

Thank you to all who gave their ideas to help us reach the finals of this contest. We will continue to rely on our community for input as the school’s development continues. Please join our mailing list at to be notified of opportunities to learn more and contribute to the creation of Crosstown High. We cannot do it without you.

Help wanted: Visionary Leaders

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Meg Crosby, Chair of Search Committee, Crosstown High Board of Directors:

“After receiving approval from Shelby County Schools recently to open Crosstown High (XTH), our team is now moving ahead full-steam to develop a truly unique high school to serve the Memphis community. While we had originally hoped to open XTH in the fall of 2017, we have since revised our timetable and will now open with a class of approximately 125 9th graders in August 2018. This extra year will allow us time to recruit outstanding leaders and teachers, continue to learn from successful, innovative high schools throughout the country, finish designing and building a 21st-century learning space, establish meaningful partnerships with businesses and nonprofits inside and outside Crosstown Concourse, and continue to solicit the input of community members to ensure that XTH is the school that our students need.

“Our first order of business is to build the team of education professionals who will bring our vision for Crosstown High to life. To that end, we are conducting a nationwide search for our founding Executive Director and Principal. We are looking for bold individuals who believe that new approaches to teaching, learning, and community building are not only possible — they are essential. Crosstown Concourse offers us a once-in-lifetime opportunity to design such a school, and we are searching for leaders who are dreamers, doers, and collaborators. They must be ready to explore what’s working best in today’s high schools, both locally and nationally, and bring those ideas back to Crosstown High so that they may be further improved and implemented.

Please take a look at the job descriptions for our Founding Executive Director and Principal. We ask for our community’s help in spreading the word about these unique leadership opportunities.

Sam and kids at story booth

“We are also encouraged by the response we have already received from teachers who are interested in learning more about working at Crosstown High. While we are not yet hiring for teaching positions, we will have many opportunities over the coming year for educators to learn more about our model. Interested individuals should add their names to our database of educators.

“Again, we extend our deepest thanks to those who have supported our vision so far, particularly our partners at Crosstown Concourse and throughout the Crosstown community, the Shelby County Schools Board of Commissioners and Superintendent Hopson, and everyone who shares our dream of building something unique and incredible for city’s youth.”

Crosstown High: Our invitation to you

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We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

Today’s post — our last in this series — is certainly our longest, but we hope ties together all we have shared over the past twelve days about the vision for where Crosstown High is heading. But that vision is still developing, and we want our community to continue to shape it. Please read through to our invitation at the end.


Photo: Joanna Zhang

Crosstown High (XTH) is being designed to help Memphians answer three core questions:

What are the essentials for a thriving community? How do you repair a city fractured by injustice and inequality? And what does it mean to reimagine education for a changing world?

These are also the driving questions of Crosstown Concourse, an ambitious redevelopment of one million square feet of abandoned warehouse space into a regenerative waystation of artistic expression, experiential education and holistic wellness — and the ecosystem in which our school will be situated.

But what should a school in such a place actually look like, and feel like, and do?

We believe there is only one possible set of answers.

Amidst a civic experiment that is designed to dissolve access barriers and be inclusive to all, Crosstown High must do the same.

Amidst a public space that is designed to promote openness, interconnection, and unbounded exchange, Crosstown High must do the same.

Amidst a latticework of porous edges that are designed to allow for the free flow of everyday life and human activity, Crosstown High must do the same.

A school like ours must be a home base more than a school.

A school like ours must be oriented outward, not inward.

The learning that happens there must be action-oriented, not abstract.

The space in which this all occurs must be dynamic, not fixed.

In short, just as Crosstown Concourse is daring to reimagine what it means to come together in a community of living, Crosstown High must reimagine what it means to come together in a community of learning.

Photo: Ginger Spickler

Photo: Ginger Spickler

SPATIALLY, this will manifest in a floor plan that is agile and adaptable, welcoming and porous, and collaborative and interdisciplinary.

STRUCTURALLY, this will manifest in our adoption of a longer school year and day as learning bleeds out of the traditional academic calendar and into every facet of a student’s life. However, increased time “in school” will not feel burdensome, as there will be greater flexibility in how time is utilized by both teachers and young people, and in active and sustained partnerships with our fellow Concourse tenants, whose workplaces will provide rich and real-world learning opportunities for our students.

CULTURALLY, this will manifest in our commitment to recruit a student body that is reflective of our city, and that allows us to embody the mantra of the entire Concourse: Better Together. 

PEDAGOGICALLY this will manifest in our adoption of competency-based progressions for students in each subject area, and in our commitment to have all students demonstrate mastery of higher-order thinking skills via project-based and portfolio assessments of their learning.

The research urging us in this direction, across a range of fields, is clear. “Everything that happens to us affects the way the brain develops,” says Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. “The brain is a social organ, made to be in relationship. What happens between brains has a great deal to do with what happens within each individual brain . . . [And] the physical architecture of the brain changes according to where we direct our attention and what we practice doing.”

The Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning sounded a similar note in their 1999 report, How People Learn. “Learners of all ages are more motivated when they can see the usefulness of what they are learning and when they can use that information to do something that has an impact on others – especially their local community.” And Case Western’s James Zull concurred in his book, The Art of Changing the Brain. “Learning depends on experience,” he wrote, “but it also requires reflection, developing abstractions, and active testing of our abstractions . . . So we might say that our best chance to help another person learn is to find out what they want, what they care about.”

Photo: Joanna Zhang

Photo: Joanna Zhang

But it isn’t just the research that drives us in this direction — it’s the voices of hundreds of Memphians echoing the same refrain. Students are crying out for education that actively engages them. Parents are clear on the type of education that brings their children joy — or disengagement. Educators who are already testing these theories in their classrooms say that it just plain works. And employers are demanding workers who can solve some of the toughest challenges in our city and world.

This sort of comprehensive approach to school (re)design, we believe, is what it means to be better together.

An invitation: What is your response to this vision? What about it excites you? What scares or worries you? What ideas do you have? How do you want to contribute? Please share your answers to any or all of these questions here.

Here are a couple of can’t-miss elements of our XQ application from previous posts:

Crosstown High Manifesto: Our school's design drivers

Crosstown High Manifesto: Our school’s design drivers

Better Together: The XTH team and some of our partners get a sneak peek of the site where we will build our school together.

Better Together – The XTH team and some of our partners get a sneak peek of the site where we will build our school together.









Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

Wonder, by design

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We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

XQ application question: How will you make the most of conventional and unconventional spaces to realize your school model?

Through our partnership with WONDER, By Design, we have come to believe that we cannot recalibrate the mindsets we bring to the learning process unless we recalibrate the spaces in which learning unfolds as well. We recognize that whereas schools of the past needed to be predictable runways through a set curriculum and set of experiences, schools of the future need to be equally purposeful — and less precise. We believe our unique design will make that possible.

Architect Trung Le presents his first designs to the Crosstown High board in May.

Architect Trung Le, of WONDER, By Design, presents his first floorplans to the Crosstown High board in May.

Crosstown High is designed more as a basecamp than an all-encompassing container. Instead of doing the simple math that figures out how many classrooms you need in order to evenly distribute young people across a fixed number of spaces, we have designed the school to be agile, adaptable, and highly reconfigurable. What this means in practice is that instead of students moving between subject-specific classrooms, they will be anchored in different home bases, and working in smaller teams to ask questions and prototype solutions to pressing problems facing Memphis and the larger world. And it means that instead of a series of similarly sized, one-size-fits-all classrooms, XTH will have a range of spaces that have been designed intentionally for different learning modes, scales and levels of intimacy.

Second, Crosstown Collaboratory (XTC), which will serve not only as the ground-floor entrance to XTH but also as a kind of research and design lab, will be set up as a more public-facing variation of XTH. The mission of XTC is to ensure that our school’s approach to teaching and learning spreads beyond the walls of the Concourse.

Finally, because of our location in Crosstown Concourse, our students will have numerous other spaces to take advantage of, from the Church Health Center’s fitness center and lap pool, to the various offices and artistic spaces of fellow tenants, to the studios of the Concourse’s artists-in-residence. Taken together, we believe this will provide our students with a truly unique platform for reflection, discovery and finding what they love.

A sampling of the attachments to our XQ application:

XTH Design Schematics: A first look at where the design of Crosstown High is heading.

XTH Design Schematics: A first look at where the design of Crosstown High is heading.








Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

Time for a change

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We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

How will you use time as an asset to enable rigorous student learning? How will you organize the school day and calendar?

At Crosstown High, we believe we can’t transform school until we transform the way we think about time and its relationship to learning. Consequently, we will establish a highly personalized learning environment for our students, flexible periods of the school day for self-directed and team-based work, and significant amounts of time for students to spend outside our walls and embedded in real-life work and collaboration.

XTH will provide 190 days of instruction during the regular school year, 10 more than traditional public schools. Our school will open early for breakfast, though learning time will begin later than other local high schools to sync with adolescents’ natural sleep rhythms. Some students may choose to take advantage of the Church Health Center’s fitness center inside the Concourse before jumping into their full day. Our school day will be longer than that of the typical public school to give our students more individualized support and guidance – academically, socially, and emotionally.


Photo: Joanna Zhang

Four mornings per week, students will either participate in our All-School Community Meeting or Advisory. Students will then go to a Humanities or Math/Science block. Teams of teachers will co-teach for the entire 110-minute block or separate students out into specific subject areas for smaller portions. Our physical environment will be highly adaptable and reconfigurable so that our teachers and learners can create the environment they need for any given moment.

One daily learning block will consist of Personalized Learning Time, which will be supervised by instructors or tutors. At the end of the day, everyone will go to Advisory. The advisor’s goals will be to a) make a deep, personal connection with the student and family, b) be the main point of contact for the student and family throughout their time at the school, and c) ensure that the student stays on a college-ready trajectory.

Our students will also participate in in-depth, elective “ConCourses,” which will be run in collaboration with Concourse partners, community organizations, and local businesses. Students — and other Crosstown Concourse community members — will have the opportunity to explore an area of passion and gain real world experience, often with experts in the field.

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

All hands on deck

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We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

XQ application question: How will you staff your school? How will you bring together traditional educators, non-traditional educators, and other adults to provide a full array of exciting, rigorous learning experiences for your students?

Bertram Williams, a youth developer with Cloud 901 at the Memphis Library (Photo: Joanna Zhang)

(Photo: Joanna Zhang)

Because XTH will be housed amidst a bustling ecosystem of organizations and industry leaders, our students will be given ample opportunities to learn from a wide range of adults. That sort of approach – in which students are expected to spend significant amounts of time engaged in real-life work – requires something different from the teachers we hire and the partners we work with. Our approach to questions of talent and training, therefore, must include a plan for both.

CROSSTOWN TEACHERS – In our search for teachers to round out our inaugural staff, we will be looking for individuals with a strong sense of themselves, a deep love of (and belief in) the power and promise of young Memphians, and a demonstrated capacity to teach children from a wide range of backgrounds, with a wide range of strengths, needs and abilities, and via a wide array of engagement and instruction strategies.

We will establish an evaluation system for our staff that is designed first and foremost to help teachers improve the quality of their professional practice via shared, strategic inquiry into what is and isn’t working for young people in their classrooms. Our schedule will allow for sustained, regular interactions between adults.

Finally, because a core component of our work at Crosstown will also involve mentoring and advising, an essential part of our talent and training must be equipping our staff to identify and meet the social and emotional needs of their students. We plan to consult several schools who have worked for years on perfecting the role of advisory in a healthy school culture – particularly the Big Picture Learning network and City Neighbors School in Baltimore.

CROSSTOWN PARTNERS – We will construct a framework for adult mentorship and guidance that shapes how every willing adult in the Concourse approaches their interactions with Crosstown students. This training will precede any organization’s work with our students, and allow us to both ensure a high level of quality control across each student’s learning experiences, and build a deeper level of understanding across the Concourse about the developmental needs and abilities of young people. Crosstown partners will serve as mentors, project advisors, guest instructors, and ultimately, colleagues of XTH students.

YOUTH DEVELOPERS – Finally, beyond the walls of Crosstown Concourse, local youth development organizations such as BRIDGES, Cloud 901 and story booth will serve as models to help create our curriculum and culture. These groups have had tremendous success helping Memphis youth develop their voice. We will collaborate with these partners to bring the very best of their programs to our school so that students don’t have to wait until school is out to experience deep engagement and work that is meaningful to them.

A sampling of the attachments to our XQ application:

Youth Developers of Memphis: We will learn from some of the most effective people working with young people in Memphis.

Youth Developers of Memphis: We will learn from some of the most effective youth development organizations in the city.










Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

Young voices at Crosstown’s heart

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We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

XQ application question: How will your school support and enable students to form positive identities as continuous learners, build complex skills, and contribute as members of their communities?


Photo: Joanna Zhang

Young voices are at the heart of Crosstown High. Almost 200 Memphis teenagers have contributed to the mission, purpose, and values of XTH, and they have given concrete ideas for how we can cultivate student agency and engagement:

-Begin each school year with a week-long Kick Off Retreat, in which students and staff are on equal standing. Relationships and trust will be built through fun, interactive exercises; a “living social contract” will be developed; aspirations for the year will be discussed; and a piece of art will be created that expresses our school’s core values.

-Elect youth and adult “School Culture Team” representatives. Representatives will serve as liaisons within XTH to help find solutions to conflicts and support the implementation of the social contract, values, and mission.

-Establish a culture of ongoing reflection and dialogue. Review our social contract daily and update it as new ideas and needs arise in our community.

-Utilize a centrally-located community bulletin board. Students and adults are invited to give input concerning life at XTH, share any new ideas or concerns they may have, and celebrate our successes.

-Designate time each week for peer-to-peer instruction and support.

-Assess and celebrate students’ growing competencies. Use engagement tools like digital badges and public presentations of research and projects.

-Allow students time to rest and socialize in order to foster healthy relationships and mental well-being.

An attachment to our XQ application:

Student Journeys - Two students, two paths through XTH. An infinite number of incredible learning experiences.

Student Journeys – Two students, two paths through XTH. An infinite number of incredible learning experiences.








Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.