Quakertown Community School District officials are used to finding themselves in the news. After all, the innovative district has won both attention and awards for its revolutionary “self-blend” education model. What sets the Bucks County, Pennsylvania district apart is that every student attending its schools has the option to choose their own academic adventure – from a mix of traditional classes and online, to a fully traditional or fully cyber learning experience.
The district hosts a fair number of students who choose one or the other approach exclusively, but most prefer picking and choosing a little of both. The schools in QCSD offers “complete versatility,” tailored perfectly to fit the needs of each student and their family.
Some students come to the high-school campus for the full day, some for a handful of class periods and others not at all. Students can choose which learning environment best meets their needs, while being supported by their local public-school staff throughout the process. BYOD and 1:1 initiatives have complemented these cyber options, creating a blended learning environment for all students at the secondary level. Since being implemented four years ago, attendance rates have risen, SAT and AP scores have increased and graduation rates have increased significantly, gaining QCSD national academic notoriety and international accolades.
Lisa Andrejko, QCSD’s superintendent readily admits that getting her visionary plan into practice took a lot of hard work and political will. Now, even the skeptics are slowly being converted. Utilizing the lessons learned from bringing the blended/online learning environment into Bucks County, Andrejko is working with Bucks County Intermediate Unit to build a new online learning platform that will offer top-notch online academic content used in QCSD to the rest of the Pennsylvania school districts. Called Bridges Virtual, it will offer courses taught by Pennsylvania teachers qualified to work in the state’s public schools to provide the level of instruction found in typical brick and mortar school while still allowing for more flexibility.
Traditional public schools must change significantly to meet the needs of today’s students. Learning environments must offer “complete versatility” for this generation of kids. Professional development for staff must be differentiated, outcome-based, and success oriented; not based on teacher seat time. Molded together, these needed changes positively impact the quality of our teachers and the achievement of our students. QCSD is one district on the cusp of this movement, and I’m proud to be a part of this student-centered, technology infused learning environment with high expectations for all.
Blended learning isn’t a turnkey panacea, though. There are logistical issues that remain as hurdles, such as a lack of standardization among the technologies used to support it. Although education entrepreneurship and innovation have driven development in the last few years, that’s also resulted in a vast array of solutions and implementation plans at both the conceptual and operational levels.