Crossroads board discusses virtual learning centers, salary issues
BIG RAPIDS — The mass spread of technology is reshaping the landscape of education. But defining the classrooms of the future can require a lot of consideration.
The Crossroads Charter Academy Board of Directors hosted Dallas Bell of Success Virtual Learning Centers during their meeting Thursday. Bell, the president of Michigan High School Options, attended the meaning to discuss the prospect of partnering with CCA Success to introduce a virtual blended learning center in Big Rapids.
Bell started his presentation with a discussion of the history of the learning centers and the purpose they serve in the community. Rather than pull students away from traditional schooling, virtual learning centers provide an opportunity for those students who, for whatever reason, have difficulties conforming to a 5-day-a- week school system, Bell said.
“Kids leave school when they lose hope for the future, hope they can graduate,” he said. “We go out into to their living rooms, sit down with the kids, find out what they want to accomplish and then help them accomplish that.”
The virtual learning centers work with students to create a customized learning plan. The plan takes into account student’s availability as well their education goals, Bell said.
“Whatever days they can get into school they do,” he said. “For all the other days we give students a laptop and a Mi-Fi unit to use.”
Providing students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to graduate from high school is good for the students as well as the local economy, Bell said.
“We know these aren’t the students who are going to leave and go to California to look for jobs,” he said. “They’re going to stay here.”
Success Virtual Learning has partnered with 13 schools which sign up year-after-year, Bell said. The program typically finds a location in areas like strip malls and converts unused retail space to a center where students can come to work toward earning their high school diploma. The program does not require any money from the partnering schools.
“We come into communities, we partner with a local school and we say, ‘Let’s work together to serve these kids’ and we invest about $250,000 to do that,” he said. “Once we get the school up and running, if the school feels they can handle it, we say ‘Great!’ and hand them the keys.
According to Bell, there already are 50 children in the area interested in participating in virtual learning and he suspects around 50 more exist. The students who benefit from the program are typically home schooled or subject to other extenuating circumstances, he added.
If the virtual learning center were to enroll 100 students, the return of government education funding to CCA could total as much as $300,000 over the course of five years, Bell said.
“These are not any students who are already in your school,” he said. “But they can’t attend a virtual school unless they are referred.”
CCA Superintendent Pam Duffy and Principal Ross Meads both recently had the opportunity to visit some of Success Virtual Learning’s centers. The two school officials shared some of their experiences during the meeting.
“I went to Grand Rapids to the virtual learning center in the Alger Heights neighborhood, which is partnered with Hope Academy,” Duffy said. “I had a nice conversation with the two teachers who were there who work there all day long.”
Duffy said the teachers work on the kids’ level, communicating at all hours with students via Facebook to provide them with help in addition to working with them one-on-one.
Meads visited the Lakeview Learning Center where he had a similar experience.
“I asked a lot of questions and voiced a lot of concerns,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you they answered all my questions, but I will tell you this: from what I’ve seen it’s worth us taking a hard look at to see if it’s something we’d like to do.”
The board took no action regarding the potential partnership between CCA and Success Virtual Learning, but will revisit the issue at their next meeting at 9 a.m. on Dec. 12.
In addition to hearing Bell’s presentation, two new members were sworn into the board following a motion to officially extend the number of board members to seven. Angela Roman and Dominic Pace took their oaths simultaneously and were subsequently appointed to positions as parent liaison and on the building and grounds board, respectively.
Pace used his first meeting as a board member to ask the principals of the K-6 program and the middle and high schools what the board can do to better serve the two institutions.
“I like to have goals to work toward,” Pace said. “And, as a board, I think that’s our goal also.”
Both Meads and K-6 Principal Chris White included the importance of providing mental health services for students and salary changes in their list of possible areas of improvement.
“One of things our school needs is a mental health professional, whether it is a social worker or a certified counselor,” White said. “A lot of times when a student comes to see me what may be manifesting as disciplinary issues are not the reason for the behavior.”
Meads also expressed the need for a mental health professional, citing the recent loss of school social worker Sandy Persons.
“I don’t get to get a lot of things done because I am providing for the needs of students in the school,” he said. “A social worker is key to helping those needs.”
Meads echoed White’s request for the board to place importance on addressing the issue of salary stagnation.
“Our success is because of our people,” he said. “I’d stack the staff of CCA against any other school in the country, and we want to keep those people.”
Former CCA parent and current teacher Leah VanderSloot also brought the issue of salaries to the board’s attention during the closing public comment period.
“It was mentioned in an email and at the all staff back-to-school meeting that there was going to be an aggressive movement for our salaries this year,” she said. “We hope that truly is happening. Some people have been here 10 or 15 years and their last raise was for 2 cents six years ago.”
by Adam Gac Adam is the Pioneer City/County Reporter, covering government in Mecosta County. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (231) 592-8347.