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Mt. Diablo Flex charter school has decided to wait a year before opening

By Theresa Harrington
Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 at 9:19 pm in Contra Costa County Office of Education, Education, Theresa Harrington.

NOTE: This post has been updated to clarify the date of the letter.

Mark Kushner, who heads up the Mt. Diablo Flex charter school that received conditional approval from the Contra Costa County Board of Education, sent an Aug. 15 letter to the board and county superintendent, informing them of the school’s intention to wait another year before opening (until fall, 2012).

Here’s his letter:

“Dear Board Members and Superintendent,

This letter is to update you on the progress of Mt. Diablo Flex Academy, an innovative charter school approved by your board about a year ago.

Significant Interest in Innovative Flex Model

As you may know, we were very pleased, with almost no advertising, to have received over 350 applicants for the 6th – 12th grade Mt. Diablo Flex Academy with a goal of opening with 250 students and the rest being on a waitlist. The Contra Costa Board of Education condition of approval requires that we open with at least 125 students.

For the board members who were not part of the charter process, Flex Academy will be one of the state’s first fulltime blended learning models, an onsite school combining the academic advantages of online education with the advantages of a tradition school.

Every student gets a free loaner laptop. Students and teachers are onsite five days a week with the teachers leveraging an online curriculum; this is in no way a virtual school or an independent study program.

In particular, the families told us they appreciated having 130 electives, self pacing and more attention for this children when they need it. Average class is size is designed to be five to seven students at a time, enabled because the teachers don’t have to teach all the material.

Instead, the world class interactive online curriculum provided by K12, Inc, the country’s largest provider of online curriculum (now serving students in all 50 states and now 62 countries) helps the students learn much of the material.

Flex Public Schools, the nonprofit holding the charter, already operates a Flex Academy in San Francisco (which by the way is doubling in size this Fall for its second year) and about to open one on September 6 in Morgan Hill, South of San Jose, called Silicon Valley Flex Academy.

Decision to Postpone Opening One Year Due to Facilities Challenge

However, as you likely heard, and as we were allowed to do by our charter approval, we made a tough decision to open a year from now rather than this Fall, believing that it is better to open well and in a space that works effectively rather than trying to squeeze the innovative program into a space that didn’t fit our model.

More specifically, we appreciated being offered a Proposition 39 site by the Mt. Diablo Unified School District at Glenbrook Middle School, but upon reflection decided that this site was too small (only fitting 125-150 students) and not configured appropriately for our learning lab model.

We also found a number a number of private sites that worked well in terms of size, space configuration, and affordability, but were not able to get the zoning and permits we needed to open in time. We feel confident that with an extra year we will have a wonderful space ready for the school for Fall 2012. Though disappointed, most of the families told us they would wait a year and enroll when we open.

National Attention for the Flex Model

We look forward to bringing Flex model and the latest in blended learning to Contra Costa County. As you may know, experts from Harvard believe that over 50 percent of American high schools will be partly online with nine years (see e.g. the new books ‘Disrupting Class’ by Clayton Christensen, and ‘Liberating Learning’ by Terry Moe). Flex Public Schools is leading this effort.

In connection with this, please see the attached articles about Flex:

1. A recent national Education Week article about blended Learning, describing the trend of blended learning and highlighting, among others, San Francisco Flex Academy.

2. A recent article from the Innosight Institute describing types of blended learning models, including one category called ‘Flex,’ named after our model.

3. An article from the Harvard Education Review describing blended models and mentioning San Francisco Flex Academy, among other schools.

In addition, in case you are interested, there is a recent video about San Francisco Flex Academy at flexsf.org and a story about the school by ABC news as well.

The proposed Mt. Diablo Flex Academy has the same model, as does Silicon Valley Flex Academy. We believe this model is one for the future as it enables more personalization by teachers. If you would like me to update the board and staff in person, please let me know.

We look forward to serving the families of Contra Costa County with this innovative model and hope that some of the local districts adopt part of our model. We have many districts and counties that have visited our San Francisco campus, as have some of you. We welcome visits from any of you to either of our Flex schools, and will work hard to open in the Mt. Diablo district area next Fall.

Very truly yours,
Mark Kushner
Executive Director, Flex Public Schools’
mkushner@flexsf.org

Ps: I have heard that the board may be reviewing charter research. I still teach at Stanford University on charter schools, and am happy to present on California and national charter school performance if that is helpful.”

Do you believe students in the Mt. Diablo school district would benefit from the Mt. Diablo Flex Academy program?

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  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    I visited the Flex Academy in SF last year to research it as we considered enrolling our son in the Mt. Diablo Flex Academy. I was impressed by the teaching and learning that I saw there, and was surprised by what they had accomplished in terms of integrating technology into the instruction, while still offering students lots of one-on-one time with instructors. It’s an intriguing model of “blended” instruction that is also producing impressive gains at the Rocketship Academies in the South Bay. Some of the students at SF Flex had very moving stories to tell about what this option had meant for their education. (My visit was not a “guided” tour. I was free to explore and observe everywhere and talk to anyone I chose.)

    MDUSD was able to delay this charter for one year, first by denying the application and then by stonewalling the Prop 39 requirements to offer a suitable facility. (They never did. The Glenbrook offer was a complete ruse. Mr. Kushner is being polite, so as not to burn bridges with the school establishment that he will probably have to seek approvals from again, at some point in the future.)

    I guess a one-year delay of such an innovative school counts as a “victory” for the status quo in the minds at Dent Center. But Mr. Kushner’s letter shows that you can’t stop positive change when the tide is ready to turn. It’s a good thing for the CVCHS organizers to keep in mind: MDUSD can put obstacles in your way, but they can’t preserve an indefensible status quo forever.