Nexus Lansing: A New High School Experience

Students come from nine cities to what was a dental billing office in an office park southeast Lansing. The bright open flexible space is high school for 95 students–with room for three times that many next year.
Principal Charlie Carver was an elementary administrator last year. Before that he taught for two years in a Big Picture school–great preparation for the non-traditional Nexus setting.
Nexus is a network of five flex blend high schools powered by Connections Learning, sister company to Connections Academy–a leading national network of virtual schools.
Three months after they opened in September we posted a review of the Nexus flex plus model.  At least two more will open in September. Mickey Revenaugh, a Connections founder (and fellow iNACOL board member), led a tour yesterday to the Lansing school for alternative and blended learning operators and advocates.
“Kids don’t care at my old school,” said Randi, a freshman. She got distracted early in the year fell behind.  Her mother helped locate Nexus Lansing.  She enrolled midyear and is now doing extra work on Saturdays to catch up. About her new school, Randi said, “They motivate you…I learn more…education is better.”
“The biggest change for teachers is that we can’t teach to the class because the school is self paced,” said Lindsay Penny, an English teacher. MAP scores are used to place and group students.  The scheduler (who lives in Denver) sends students to one or two live sessions a week in both math and English with the onsite teachers. “We are very individualized,” said Penny.
Asked if she could you ever go back to a big school, a student named McCala said, “Never.  She said, “Here I can get help when I need it.”  She added, “At my old school people thought I was stuck up because I never talked.  Here I talk all the time!”
The school meets in two shifts.  The morning session runs 8:30-12:30 and the afternoon runs 1-5 pm.  Students do at least two hours of work outside of school and have time for work, internships, and extracurricular activities. “The best and the worst thing about this school is going at your own pace,” said McKinsey, “if you get too far behind it’s hard to catch up.
McCala said the best thing about her new school is the availability of teachers, “The Success Coaches help you stay on track.”  Students meet with their Success Coach weekly to discuss progress and goals.
Students can set appointments with coaches, the counselor, or teachers anytime. While there are math and English teachers on site, science, social studies and electives are taught online. Nexus offers a full range of AP and foreign language courses. Science experiments? The chem lab is virtual—you can still burn stuff, just no holding your hand over the Bunsen Burner.
Central Michigan Univerity is an active authorizer of the charter school. They recently conducted a compete review of the program, facility, and staff.  They attend monthly meetings of the nonprofit board.  They help with assessments and provide a range of PD.
The school provides each student a laptop that they can take home. Students take responsibility for laptops.  Some students bring their own laptops to school, most bring phones.
The teachers can see each student’s planner.  The Connexus platform tracks all correspondence with a student.  Success Coaches discuss pacing with each student and can change schedules. Parents can look at student gradebooks and click on assignments and assessments.
The student body is as diverse as the reasons for enrolling in Nexus.  Not all of them are into computers but students like Tyler who, according to his teacher, talks about computers all day long and is taking an online game design class.
On the subject of class size, Nexus considers “overall level of effort” which weighs load for particular tasks.  The school is a good example of differentiated and distributed (different locations) staffing.  The four day week provides lots of time for teacher collaboration and learning.
Students doing well online meet with math teacher Stacey Weinlander weekly–struggling students more often.  She supplements the online instruction with units of instruction addressing MAP identified gaps.
There is no football team at Nexus, but there is a buff personal trainer who coaches students through a personal fitness routine.
Students write every day across the curriculum. In addition to the writing Penny assigns, there is a major writing assignment every two or three weeks in every class. Even in math, there is an ongoing conversation on a message board.
Nexus is a personalized competency-based environment–a great example of a flex blend with lots of extra features.  It’s worth a visit.
Disclosure: Connections Learning is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

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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1 Comment

Michael C. Bell

You touch the future through the hearts of children with sincere appreciation.

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