Rocky Mount NC: Where Rocketship Meets Carpe Diem

Rocky Mount Prep

A year ago Doug Haynes made a recommendation to the board of Rocky Mount Prep to adopt a blended learning plan modeled after the Rocketship elementary model and the Carpe Diem high school. The board asked him to become CEO and implement the plan…over the summer.
The 1,200 student K-12 public charter school, opened in 1997, is located 45 minutes east of Raleigh North Carolina. Haynes, a social entrepreneur with an education business background, was a founding board member and came back a year ago to help the school recapture its’ original mission of delivering high achievement at a lower cost using best practices in education and business.
Doug and his team gave me a tour last week. They looked at all the new models out there and visited a lot of schools.  They decided on desktop lab models powered by 20 inch Lenovo (the US headquarters is nearby) all in one units.
A computer lab was added to the library and the walls were torn down in classrooms to create two big labs and one smaller learning lab. The beautiful, well-maintained campus would make any community proud.
The 600 student elementary and the 300-plus middle school use a rotating ABCD schedule where students spend about an hour of the 8am to 4pm day in the learning lab daily. Like Rocketship, staffing is departmental with math and English specialists. Middle school students take social studies, supplemental reading and math online one period a day and will get more blended learning next year.
Math Dean Angela Langley said “We are seeing great results with Dreambox,” an adaptive math program, “And we plan to add ST Math next year.” They use NWEA’s MAP adaptive assessment to pinpoint needs and Reflexmath to boost fluency. Online speech therapy is provided by PresenceLearning.
Transitioning to a blended elementary model was relatively smooth and they are already seeing strong academic gains. However, transitioning the 250 student high school to a rotation blend has been more of a challenge.  For high schoolers used to a traditional schedule, spending half the day working online in Edgenuity (formerly e2020) has been an adjustment.
The Carpe Diem instructional model was also a big challenge for secondary teachers–it requires teachers to provide targeted support to prepare students for online success and to extend and enrich the online experience.  Haynes said, “We continue to adjust and must provide better support for teachers and students.”  They use NC VIrtual courses for specialty and AP courses.
Haynes and the board decided to make the facilities changes and take the plunge all at once rather than phasing in the changes over several years.  They made changes in about 30 of 100 staff positions before the beginning of the year.
“We are adding a career focus to college prep next year so students get real-world skills while being able to earn college credit,” said Haynes.  The school is next door to NC Wesleyan College and students have access to Nash Community College, where they can be transported for courses or take them online.
The current challenge for the high-poverty school is that many entering students are several years behind.  They use tutors, TenMarks, and are considering a Mastery-style academic bootcamp.  Rocky Mount uses Illuminate for assessment and data management and Faronics Insight for desktop management.
Rocky Mount is a blend in progress but definitely a school worth visiting. What Doug and team accomplished in a year is remarkable but it is a reminder that the toolset is still rough and the transition is complicated.  The early results are very promising.
Disclousures: Dreambox and MIND Research Institute are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. 

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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Anuradha Sinha

This is really inspirational. I have just completed reading your book - Getting Smart. I am an educationist for the last 20 years. This concept of blended learning has been haunting me for the last 3- 4 years. I could not really give it a name, nor could I clearly understand how this can be implemented. Reading your book and articles like this one has really got me very interested.
I live in India and wonder if the program's like Dream Box and the others would be as effective for Indian students. I would love to know more about this and bring this concept for our Indian students too.

Janet Brown

I have two sons at RMP's high school, despite my personal reservations as a parent and educator. It is where my sons want to attend school. However, I can definitely see an improvement over the first year of implementation of blending learning. More teachers have been hired, and students get more time with teachers. So far this year, students now send 45 minutes with a teacher and 45 minutes in front of a computer for each subject. This has raised my comfort level considerably, unlike the first year. The first year, most of the staff were either fired (including all of the history teachers) or they quit because of dissatisfaction with the new system. Back then, students spent most of their days in front of a computer and only saw a teacher every couple of days. As a result, parents were told that there would be a 30% drop in state scores. Thankfully, I never worry about my sons passing state assessments, because I always give them the additional help they need. I am blessed because they always pass!

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