CharterFolk Contributor Kathleen Hermsmeyer – Flex-Based Schools Should be the Most Popular School Model in America Today. Why isn’t it?

Good morning, CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Dr. Kathleen Hermsmeyer, Superintendent for Springs Charter Schools.

I provide Kathleen’s bio below.

Dr. Kathleen Hermsmeyer founded California’s largest county-wide benefit charter school, River Springs, in 2005 and serves as the Superintendent of this charter, along with five other charters serving in total over 10,000 students. She has worked in education for the past 32 years in traditional urban public schools, international schools, and charters. 

Dr. Hermsmeyer earned her bachelor’s and master’s from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and her doctorate from University of the Pacific.

Dr. Hermsmeyer is passionate about preparing students to enter the changing global community through personalized learning, real-world applications, and rigorous mastery-based instruction.

Flex-Based Schools Should be the Most Popular School Model in America Today. Why isn’t it?

American school systems have single-mindedly tried to revert to pre-pandemic normal over these past two years, but today’s traditional classroom experience is anything but normal. There is an alarming level of absenteeism, academic regression, behavior issues, a widening achievement gap, and students leaving the school system entirely. According to David Brooks in his New York Times article America Should Be in the Middle of a Schools Revolution, “Today’s teachers and students are living with a set of altered realities, and they may be for the rest of their lives.

We have an epidemic of underperforming, disengaged students and parents who have little faith in the traditional school system. As an educator working in alternative charter school education in California since 1998, I have a solution – Flex-based School!

Flex-based schools, sometimes called ‘hybrid’ schools, support and engage families and students by giving them a more active role in their schooling, while at the same time allowing targeted support and acceleration for the personalized needs of each student. Flex schools allow students to attend a portion of their school hours in the classroom and a portion in the community or at home. The schedule is on a continuum, changing based on the needs of the student at each era of their life – infinitely flexible.

Here are Three Examples:

Serena is a junior golfer getting ready for her first major event. The flex schedule allows her to play 18 holes every morning and then attend classes in the afternoon and do independent study in the evenings.

Shane works eight hours a week during the school day as an engineering and robotics intern, creating machinery made to specs for competition and troubleshooting. He gets career technical credit for this work.

Elias is in class three days per week and home with his mom two days a week where he works on personalized online and paper/pencil assignments. On at-home days he participates in small group Zoom lessons and has a conferencing session with his instructional coach. His assignments are targeted to his specific needs to accelerate his progress.

With even grandparents jumping on Zoom, people dumping traditional TV for streaming networks, and the widespread availability of devices and internet, I’ve been dumbfounded that post-pandemic society has mostly accepted the return to the jail of “30-in-a-cell-with-a-bell” traditional five-day classroom model. I was happily anticipating an accelerated timeline to all schools implementing some version of flex-based school. That has not happened.

Since most public schools want to keep school going the old way, the private school market has been quick to jump on the need for more flexible schooling. Hybrid models such as microschools and pods have risen in prominence throughout the country. This rise has prompted the National Hybrid School Project, headed up by director Eric Wearne from Kennesaw State University in Georgia. In their recent national survey, they found more than 300 different models of hybrid schools across the nation, and this is growing. Some schools are independent and others are members of networks including the University-Model Schools and Aquinas Learning Centers.

But I know we can provide flexible options within our public school system. Every student deserves personalized, flexible choices, even those who can’t afford private school tuition. In the words of Marcellus, a high school student at a hybrid program, “Before I started here, I had to just get through the school day, you know, bide my time, until I could do the things that interested me. I wanted to do my own reading, explore my music, do my athletics. Now, I can plan out assignments with my teacher that mixes what she needs with what I want.”

It’s time to trade the old school with a new school flexible model where all students can succeed and chase their dreams during the school day instead of waiting for school to get out to do their real learning during their real life. 

Here are Five Reasons Why Flex-Based Schools’ Time Has Come:

1. Each Student Gets a Personalized Path.

Some students will not need the entire five hours each week to complete their history work, while others will need double that for math, yet in a traditional factory-model school, every child gets exactly the same amount of time on the same assignments. Flex students are able to rewatch lessons as many times as necessary to understand the content and do as many practice problems as they need. 

New electronic tracking tools provide as effective support as one-on-one live classroom support provides. Teachers can keep track of standards mastery and work completed so children always have meaningful work to do. Fortunately, technology allows us to make the classroom and community days seamless with integrated assignments and collaboration in real time.

2. Flex Schools Allow Students to Follow Their Passions.

Students have the ability to learn the skills of their grade level through a variety of content that’s interesting to them, while also participating in community groups, sports, and activities without having the rigid time block that limits their schedule. When students are working on focused assignments without the distraction of other students’ behavior, progress on core academics can be quicker allowing time for enriching and motivating exploration. In addition, students can opt-in to book groups based on interests across the entire school network instead of just their class. They can partner-up virtually and/or in person with those who have similar interests for hands-on projects and seek help from mentors across the country and the world. This freedom to choose is associated with increased motivation and engagement across all age groups and levels of learning. Read a great Edutopia article about the motivation of choice here.

3. Flex Students are Empowered to be in the Driver’s Seat of Their Own Journey.

Flex students learn how they learn best because they are called upon to spend some of their time learning alone. They have intentional conversations with instructional mentors on methods of learning so they can learn better. These skills will continue to support their growth and development long after their compulsory schooling is over. Flex kids learn to manage time because they actually have time to manage. Generally, in typical traditional schools, students spend every moment of their class time subscribed in specific work. In fact, according to Stephen K. Graham, prisoners have more freedom of choice than typical school children. So, after spending 13+ years being micromanaged seven hours each day, we wonder why high school graduates get to college and fail to thrive? The only way to teach these skills of time management and independent learning is to give students time to manage themselves and learn on their own. An important part of empowering students is to help them reflect on their learning process. This video shows how our teachers help students think about their learning at all ages.

4. Flex Schools are Kinder and More Inclusive.

The flex model turns down the heat on the social pressure cooker that school can be by giving students real choices as to where and when they attend class and reducing the school and class size. In addition, the norms for online learning and the safeguards online classes require, ensure that more mindful and focused attention is given to social relationships in flex schools. Although the total number of students enrolled in the school may be large, the student’s world will be much smaller with small virtual groups and class groups creating a cozy tribe for learning and growing. 

For students with learning differences, flex-based schools can make all the difference between a student loving school or hating it. Some students can’t manage an entire day due to their disability and need more flexibility. Because we have many students doing many different schedules, no one looks upon students leaving class for speech or OT as odd. Our schools normalize the idea that students will take a differing amount of time to master each standard, so a culture of celebrating effort is established instead of simply celebrating achievement.

5. We Keep it Real.

Our students do real work, in the real world. Our classroom teachers provide a workshop for what the students will do on their community days. Our teachers take on the role of coach and facilitator, with the student actively engaged in planning the route to learning. This keeps it all real for our kids. They are working with community experts, doing internships, attending community college classes, launching community initiatives such as two of our entrepreneur students who combined the talents and resources of their small non-profit  businesses to begin a new venture providing toiletry kits for foster kids – all on school time. See their story here.

Although private flex models are happening all over the country, currently there are only a handful of states providing this in a public school setting. Meanwhile parents are making their frustration clear – we are trending to have the most disengaged citizenship our nation has ever seen. Flex-based schools are a solution to many of our nation’s education issues, providing the happy compromise of personalization, flexibility, and accountability needed to help students thrive. 

CharterFolk Contributor David Akdemir – The Power of Collaboration: Charter Schools Uniting for Educational Excellence

Good morning, CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Dr. David Akdemir, the Executive Director of Harmony Education Solutions.

Dr. David Akdemir, Executive Director of Harmony Education Solutions

I provide David’s bio below.

Dr. David C. Akdemir is the Executive Director of Harmony Education Solutions, the purpose of which is to provide support and consultation for international and national schools in implementing Harmony Public School’s proven and successful educational model. Previously, David served as the Director of Leadership Development at Harmony Public Schools for five years. He provided professional learning opportunities for current and aspiring school administrators and their supervisors and assisted school districts in implementing their performance management.

Before devoting his work fulltime to leadership development, David served as Area Superintendent of Harmony Austin District, which served around 4000 students at six campuses, for two years. Before this service, he served as Principal/Superintendent at LISA Academy, a one-school charter district in Little Rock, Arkansas, for four years.

David completed his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership at University of Arkansas in Little Rock in 2012 and his Doctorate degree in Educational Leadership at Lamar University in 2016.  His dissertation topic was charter school teachers’ perceptions of administrator strategies that contributed to teacher retention, and his findings revealed 19 strategies administrators use that improve teacher retention. David published a scholarly article on the same topic on The Charter School Resource Journal Vol.12 No.1.

David presented at several conferences including AAIE, AISA, ASCD, ISCRC and TCSA on the topics of leadership development and establishing successful school systems. “Developing Aspiring Leaders: One Charter School District’s Approach” at ASCD Empower Conference, and “Teachers’ Perceptions of Administrator Strategies That Contribute to Teacher Retention” at Texas Charter School Association (TCSA) are two examples.

David has been married since 2006, and he has two daughters. He loves and enjoys family, friendships, music, and sports.  

The Power of Collaboration: Charter Schools Uniting for Educational Excellence

Charter schools have emerged as dynamic forces in the American education landscape, offering innovative approaches to teaching and learning. These independent public schools provide parents and students with choices outside of traditional district schools, specializing in unique educational models tailored to meet the diverse needs of their communities. While charter schools are celebrated for their flexibility and ability to drive educational innovation, an often-underappreciated aspect is the significance of charter schools supporting one another.

Strengthening the Charter School Ecosystem

When charter schools come together, they amplify our collective impact, share best practices, and, most importantly, provide better educational opportunities for students nationwide. In this article, I’ll explore the myriad ways in which collaboration among charter schools benefits not only our institutions but also the students we serve.

Promoting Innovation through Collaboration

Charter schools are synonymous with innovation, and when we support each other, we create a thriving network for the exchange of ideas and practices. This collaboration leads to the development of more effective teaching strategies, curriculum enhancements, and improved educational outcomes.

Resource Sharing

Charter schools often face resource constraints compared to traditional public schools. By supporting each other, we can pool resources, share facilities, and jointly access funding opportunities, resulting in cost savings and greater financial stability.

Advocacy and Policy Influence

Charter schools encounter unique policy challenges and opportunities that require collective action. When we unite and support each other, we can advocate for favorable policies, share lobbying efforts, and work together to overcome legislative barriers, shaping policies that promote charter school growth and sustainability.

Mentoring and Professional Development

Charter school leaders and teachers benefit from ongoing professional development and mentorship. Established charter schools supporting newer ones can provide guidance, share expertise, and ensure the success of new educational ventures, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

Community Engagement and Outreach

Charter schools often serve as pillars of their communities. Collaborating with other charter schools allows us to expand our reach and engage with a broader audience through joint community events, outreach programs, and partnerships with local organizations.

Student Benefits

Ultimately, the main beneficiaries of charter schools supporting each other are the students. Collaboration leads to better educational opportunities, more effective teaching, and a stronger overall educational system, offering students access to a wider range of high-quality educational options.

The Symphony of Collaboration

The collaborative dynamics within the charter school community are akin to a symphony of innovation and shared aspirations. Experienced charter schools have a distinctive role to play in nurturing and supporting their emerging counterparts. My experiences, working in various capacities within both emerging charter schools and one of the most successful and the largest charter school networks, Harmony Public Schools, shed light on the importance of this vital collaboration.

Understanding the Charter School Ecosystem

My tenure in emerging charter schools as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent provided invaluable insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by these institutions. Emerging charter schools often operate on limited budgets and resources, making it essential for them to seek support and guidance to thrive.

The Strength in Unity

Transitioning to Harmony Public Schools, one of the most experienced and successful charter school networks in the nation, revealed the profound impact that large charter schools with proven track records can have on the sector. Collaboration among diverse charter schools, regardless of size, enhances our collective ability to influence policy, share innovative practices, and address shared challenges.

Empowering Emerging Peers

Experienced charter schools play a pivotal role in empowering their emerging counterparts through consultation, mentorship, resource sharing, and advocacy, providing them with the tools and guidance they need to navigate the complex educational landscape effectively.

Fostering Innovation

The dynamic synergy within the charter school community is fertile ground for innovation. Successful charter schools can facilitate the scaling and dissemination of innovative practices developed within emerging institutions, ensuring that groundbreaking approaches benefit a wider spectrum of students.

Advocating for Educational Choice

A unified voice representing charter schools of all sizes is a powerful advocate for educational choice. Large charter schools with proven track records, by standing alongside their emerging counterparts, strengthen the charter school movement’s ability to influence policies that promote diverse, high-quality educational options.

The journey through the diverse landscape of charter schools underscores the importance of experienced charter schools supporting their emerging peers. This collaboration, rooted in shared experiences and a commitment to educational excellence, has the potential to shape the future of education in ways that benefit all students, regardless of the size of their charter school.

Notably, Harmony Public Schools (HPS) has played a pivotal role in fostering educational excellence in Texas and beyond by offering invaluable support to numerous charter school systems. HPS’s commitment to education extends far beyond their own campuses, as they have actively collaborated with aspiring charter schools to help them lay the foundation for success. Through comprehensive assistance, HPS has assisted in the establishment of these schools, guiding them in administrative and instructional areas, offering vital resources, and providing unwavering support. As a result of this partnership, these charter schools have flourished and are now operating independently, standing as beacons of educational achievement in their respective communities.

The commitment to collaboration among charter schools, both experienced and emerging, is a testament to our resilience and a reflection of our shared vision of providing students with diverse, high-quality educational opportunities. In this spirit of unity, charter schools collectively contribute to reshaping the educational landscape for the better, ensuring that every student has the chance to thrive.

Reactions and questions welcome.  Please email David Akdemir, Ed.D, to discuss.