Orchard Lake Elementary may open Impact Academy next year

Organizers hope to expand model to entire school in 2014-15

Lakeville’s oldest elementary school may be the pilot site for a program that aims to

Lakeville Schools Learning Specialist Julene Oxton works with Tony Maksimov, 7, a second-grader at Orchard Lake Elmentary School. Photo by Laura Adelmann
Lakeville Schools Learning Specialist Julene Oxton works with Tony Maksimov, 7, a second-grader at Orchard Lake Elmentary School. Photo by Laura Adelmann

transform education and could start next year if school officials approve it.

Organizers hope to debut “Impact Academy” for K-3 at Orchard Lake Elementary this fall, a block schedule learning model that swaps classrooms of desks for multi-age learning levels with furniture like bean bags and tables and traditional learning for integrated studies and problem-solving activities that connect learning to real-world issues.

If approved by the Lakeville School Board, the Orchard Lake Media Center would become the learning space for Impact Academy and the media center would be moved into two classrooms.

Core to the education model that would be an option for Orchard Lake K-3 students in the 2013-14 school year, is personalized learning, where children are grouped by learning level in subjects like math and literacy, allowing them to advance at their own pace to the next module, possibly a new teacher.

The district is also considering opening the option for families outside of the Orchard Lake area in the future, but that is complicated by transportation and elementary boundary adjustments.

If Impact Academy opens and is successful, proponents are hoping the model could be implemented in the entire school for 2014-15 and allow any district family the choice of enrolling in Impact Academy.

Lakeville School Board members have had several presentations about Impact Academy and are expected to make a decision whether to implement phase one at OLE for the 2013-14 school year at its March 12 meeting.

Deeply connected with “service learning,” the Impact Academy model requires the school year be divided into trimesters and encourages students to align their interests and talents to “impact” each other and the community.

District information states Impact Academy “anchor teachers” would lead grade-level students in science, social studies, health and art, and “target teachers” teach literacy and math in a multi-age setting. Students could have anywhere from one to three teachers and may have the same anchor teacher for two or more years.

OLE Learning Specialist Julene Oxton said the service learning aspect happens when students take what they are learning and apply it to a community need, such as a water quality issue or the elderly living alone.

“Service learning has been around a long time,” Oxton said. “But this isn’t just a service project, it’s actually connected to the content of what they are learning in school.”

She said she is “passionate” about the educational model because it creates a different educational experience for children and allows students to have connections with 21st century skills.

Oxton and six other teachers joined to develop the proposal, originally imagined as a charter school. Staff members were informed that Impact would be at OLE in a Feb. 19 email and a Feb. 20 staff meeting. Some OLE staff members expressed concerns after the meeting.

Lakeville School Board members have recently received emails parents and staff members citing concerns regarding the lack of parental input, space issues, eliminating the quiet media center as a work space option for children, potential of the program to eliminate proven and successful educational practices and the effect Impact Academy could have on other classes.

District officials responded with information that better detailed facts about the plans, and several staff meetings are planned in the school to focus on the potential changes.

Advocates of the proposal include Superintendent Lisa Snyder, who in an interview said it “aligns perfectly with the district’s mission, vision and strategic plan” to allow personalized learning that retains quality education at an affordable cost.

“We know the current model is not financially sustainable,” Snyder said in an email to Sun Thisweek. “So we are looking for ideas and innovative approaches that better meet the need of the 21st Century Learner.”

She said the model addresses the district’s teacher workload issues, in part by allowing teachers more time for collaboration in planning for instruction more tailored to individual student’s needs.

“It provides choice for families,” Snyder said. “One size does not fit all in education, and increasingly parents want choices and customized opportunities that fit their child’s learning style and needs.”