What do Phalen Leadership Academy and Carpe Diem-Meridian have in common? These Indianapolis charter schools share a belief in great teachers, the power of blended learning to back up those teachers and individualize each student’s instruction, and the support of the Indiana Charter School Board (ICSB).
Two case studies out now from Public Impact examine the schools’ approaches to blended learning in their first years. Commissioned by the ICSB, the reports provide lessons for potential school leaders considering similar schools.
The ICSB awarded 10 charters to Phalen Leadership Academies (PLA), which opened its first school in fall 2013 with grades K–2 and plans to grow to K–8 and about 860 students. PLA founder Earl Martin Phalen wanted his schools to provide innovative programs for high-need students, such as those who attend his Summer Advantage USA program that seeks to erase summer “learning losses.”
Phalen and his founding principal, Jeremy Baugh, could see the stark needs: In PLA’s first year, only 42 percent of incoming students were reading on grade level. Just 3 percent were on grade level in math. The school leaders envisioned students spending a short time in whole-group instruction, then rotating among small-group instruction, independent work, and individualized online learning intended to teach the basics and reinforce skills. PLA’s focus on great instruction goes beyond the core subjects, with plenty of school-day time for art, music, physical education, and Spanish instruction, plus daily cultural enrichment time on subjects of students’ choosing, as part of extended eight-hour days.
“I wanted a place that was really going to have a structure set up that will benefit kids,” first-grade teacher Leslie Fisher says. “I like the blended-learning model a lot.”
In spring 2013, Phalen and Baugh moved fast to start their school from scratch, focusing on facilities and enrollment challenges, hiring, establishing the new school’s culture, and helping teachers learn to use their various online programs and data from those programs. Phalen Leadership Academy: Rapid adjustments: Lessons from a blended-learning start-up charter school details the challenges and joys of blended learning with young students, listens to teacher reactions to the model, and examines how teacher recruitment and retention, sustainable funding, and professional development work at PLA.
The ICSB granted Carpe Diem six charters in 2012. The first school, Carpe Diem-Meridian, joins a network of five charter schools that founder Rick Ogston began in Yuma, Arizona. The school uses a “personalized learning” model in which each student spends a portion of the day (often half a day or more) learning online, and a portion of the day in “workshops” with in-person teachers focused on higher-order thinking skills, high-priority or challenging topics, small-group discussions, and projects.
Now in its second year, the school has overcome many of the initial challenges of introducing itself and its model to the community. Carpe Diem-Meridian: Achieving academic progress through digital and in-person instruction takes an in-depth look at:
- the benefits of digital instruction for the school’s students
- keeping students engaged online
- what in-person workshops offer
- a typical teacher’s day
- school staffing model
- opportunities for teachers
- key challenges
“There’s a tendency to make Carpe Diem about technology, but it’s actually a fundamental rethinking of how a classroom operates,” says Jason Bearce, Carpe Diem Indiana board chairman. “Let the technology do what it’s good at, but let the teachers do what they’re best at.”
Phalen Leadership Academy: Rapid adjustments: Lessons from a blended-learning start-up charter school was written by Sharon Kebschull Barrett. Carpe Diem-Meridian: Achieving academic progress through digital and in-person instruction was written by Jiye Grace Han and Sharon Kebschull Barrett.