The following post was written by Deb Munis, Director of Educational Options at the Auglaize County ESC.
Auglaize County Educational (ACE) Academy is an online school that serves at-risk students, in operation since 2003.The school resides in Lima with an average of 100 students. Forty percent of those students have a documented disability. Fifty percent of the students are considered economically disadvantaged. ACE Academy received the 2013 School of Distinction Award from the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools at the Community School Conference.
Our school began using the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP) two years ago—we have had a difficult time meeting AYP. Last year, we dove into the OIP and FIP. Because of the online nature of our school, some of our teachers do not live within the school district, within the county, within the state, or even within the country. For our students, this is wonderful. We can really pick the teachers that we feel match our needs from a wide pool of candidates. But this advantage also has its downsides: How do you hold meetings for teacher-based-teams? How do you build trust and collaboration? We have found that this takes much longer than the traditional district because you don’t eat lunch with Mrs. Jones or pass Mr. Smith in the hallway. Our online teachers are not full-time teachers within our school and are often teaching in other schools as well. Our teachers keep up with current trends through their district and ours. This leads to some great sharing. But, districts and duties end at different times and meetings are not as easy to schedule.
Our solutions included an online meeting software and extreme tenacity. Our teacher-based-teams meet online regularly. The first component we decided to take on was FIP. In Year 1, we used the FIP online modules and provided discussion boards for teachers to comment. The online modules made such a difference for all of our staff. Teachers could watch at their leisure, post comments, and then meet to discuss online with other staff.
As we ended the first year, the leadership team felt that there was not a strong understanding among teachers about how they could use formative instructional practices in their online courses. So for Year 2, we decided to choose FIP modules to have staff review and engage in deeper conversations. Teachers worked extremely hard to develop a list of items and practices that needed to be included in our online courses.
We are now in Year 3 of our efforts. We have gone back through the modules to review certain components. We have found that we can learn and do to a certain capacity, but that we have to revisit concepts to continue to learn and grow. The discussion has centered on what data we have to prove that our students are growing. Coupled with the new teacher evaluation system, the discussions have become more specific rather than glossy and general. We have also noticed that teachers are not blaming students or parents for growth. Everyone seems to understand that we move from where we are, rather than a common starting line.
Another change we have noticed with all of the staff is the ownership of the learning. Before, we had courses that were put online and were not changed for an entire year. Now, as staff members are learning, we are seeing changes in the courses to meet the needs of students. This is very exciting to watch. We have seen students who are more engaged and completing more courses.
In November, ACE Academy was awarded the Drop Out Recovery School - School of Distinction for meeting a high number of our indicators. Is the journey over? Absolutely not. We recently asked teachers to go back to a particular module to review so we could tackle yet another concept. We are planning to continue our growth through the use of FIP in Action modules. We have heard many schools talk about FIP as if it were an item you do and check off of a list. At ACE Academy, we believe FIP is a continual journey of learning and implementing, checking data and looking at the next concept.
Deb Munis works for the Auglaize County ESC and Auglaize County Educational Academy as the Director of Educational Options. A former general and special education teacher, she is committed to ensuring that all students have the what they need to learn and all teachers have the tools they need to deliver high quality instruction.