A pioneer in blended learning, Rocketship Education was founded by John Danner and Preston Smith in 2007. The San Jose-based network supports ten Bay Area elementary schools as well as two in Nashville and one in Milwaukee. Rocketship will open a school in Washington DC and more in the Bay Area in 2016.
Rocketeers are on a rotational school model and rotate between math, literacy and learning lab, where they spend about a fifth of their day. Cubicles of thin client screens have given way to Chromebooks (see below).
Learning Lab software includes i-Ready, Lexia, ST Math, DreamBox, and MyOn (see schedule below). In the early days the labs were run by volunteers and teachers didn’t benefit from much learning lab information. These days there is strong collaboration between the lab’s Individualized Learning Specialists and teachers. Tutors are often paraprofessionals preparing to become certified teachers.
Rocketship teachers benefit from more than four hours of professional development each week and three weeks in summer.
In southeast San Jose, Rocketship Spark serves 620 students transitional k through fifth grade, 78% qualify for free or reduced price meals. Almost 60% of students are new to English.
Principal Annie Tran said parent engagement is important to meeting challenges and advancing successes. Parents are not bystanders at Spark, and the parent – teacher relationship is a close one. Parents enter into a contract when enrolling their students. Spark believes in creating parent leaders to become powerful advocates for their students learning outcomes.
Each teacher provides their phone number and email at the beginning of the year for use at any time. By the end of each year, it is encouraged that each parent should complete 30 Parent Partnership Hours. This engagement model encourages parents to volunteer in the classroom, at community events or on field trips. You may see 2-3 parents volunteering each day in the classrooms and a small coalition of parents have even begun teaching bilingual reading lessons to the students.
During our visit, we were lucky to hear from a panel of parents about the Rocketship model and the education that their students were receiving at Spark Academy. It was nice to see the dedication, enthusiasm and pride from the students’ families. One dad even noted, “There may not be a perfect world, but there is a perfect school, and it is Rocketship.”
This hands on approach between Spark staff, teacher and parents has lended itself to providing unique learning pathways for every student by customizing each students schedule, with a combination of traditional instruction, the use of technology and tutoring.
Rocketship has a strategic, yet flexible plan for making sure their students succeed and when you visit it seems as though no detail has been overlooked. There is evidence of intentionality throughout the school — from the Rocketship provided backpacks that are just large enough to fit what students really need, to the individualized schedules of the learning lab, to the headsets worn by the leadership team (tools for real time coaching).
The holistic approach of teaching to what the students need to know, parents and community involvement and using data is allowing Spark to better meet students individual needs.
For more see:
- Rocketship’s Preston Smith on Investing in the Art of Teaching
- Rocketship to Open 8 Blended Learning Schools in Nashville
- Innovative Blend Could be the Spark for South Africa
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