What’s Next? A Flex Plus School Model by Connections Education

I’m a big fan of flex model secondary schools; there at least 10 Reasons Every District Should Open a Flex School. In short, these models create options fast, can leverage community assets, and create a picture of the future of personalized competency-based learning.
Nexus Academy, a new model from Connections Education, is a great example. But first, some background. About flex models, Classifying Blended Learning from Innosight Institute, says, “content and instruction are delivered primarily by the Internet, students move on an individually customized, fluid schedule among learning modalities, and the teacher-of-record is on-site. The teacher-of-record or other adults provide face-to-face support on a flexible and adaptive as-needed basis through activities such as small-group instruction, group projects, and individual tutoring.”
The two big differences between a flex school and a traditional high school are the following:

  • Personalized learning, often with a mostly digital curriculum, engages students and gives them more control over rate, time, location, and pace (and increasingly some variation on path as well).
  • Individual progress rather than age cohorts (Check out CompetencyWork to learn more about competency-based education).

This is not a new idea: Edvisions and Big Picture have national networks of flex high schools. It’s just easy to open flex schools as online learning platforms have matured. Broad Prize winning Miami-Dade has eight iPrep academies powered by Florida Virtual School. K12 Inc. is supporting San Francisco Flex and Silicon Valley Flex . (See a Q&A with K12’s Darren Reed.)
Nexus. You may recall that Connections Education was acquired by Pearson a year ago. A year before that, co-founder Mickey Revenaugh was hard at work in Midwestern towns meeting with school district and communities leaders interested in a better high school alternative. Her other full time job was leading a team that took everything Connections learned from educating 40,000 kids online and combining it with the best of face-to-face learning to develop a new kind of high school—the next blend.
At the first Nexus Academies in Ohio and Michigan, students reported that their innovative new schools are “like I imagine college to be” and “the first place adults asked my opinion about what school should be like, and actually listened.”
This blog is titled Flex Plus because there are four cool additions to other flex models that include the following:

  • Success Coaches: Specially trained paras who wear two hats – instructional support and social/emotional development-plus-life planning – working with students in teams in lounge-like Team Zones.
  • Up Close Administration: Our principals and guidance counselors don’t have offices, and instead are “on the floor” with kids in their Team Zones. If there is a private conversation needed, they go into a conference room.
  • Personalized Instruction: Face-to-face math and English teachers work with students based on their Common Core objectives, data on which is gathered and reported by Connexus platform.
  • Personal Fitness: Kids are literally having a Personal Trainer working with them in our on-site fitness centers and getting noticeable results, including students who have made a career of ditching PE.

“We’re essentially wiping the slate clean on high school and starting over by building schools around kids instead of vice versa,” Revenaugh said. “We are discovering that when students can sit where they want, eat when they want, tackle their courses in the order they want – yet benefit from close, guiding relationships with face-to-face Success Coaches and teachers dedicated to their futures – they perform well. It’s enough to make you wonder whether it makes sense to do high school any other way.”
In addition to leading Nexus development, Mickey is advancing the sector as Vice Chair of International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). She’s candid about what works and what doesn’t. Like me (a fellow director), she’s excited about the potential of blended learning to engage urban secondary kids not typically well served by traditional high schools.
Nexus Academies opened in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Lansing and Grand Rapids in August 2012. Every Nexus Academy campus is limited to 300 students. Connections Education is now developing additional Nexus Academies for Fall 2013 and beyond – beginning with Nexus Academy of Indianapolis, recently approved by the Indiana Charter School Board for launch next fall.
This blog first appeared on EdWeek.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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