Growing Georgia district providing more choices for students
At the Henry County (Ga.) Schools, the only constant over the past decade has been change. A booming economy in the Atlanta area has resulted in the district more than doubling in size. “We went from 19,000 students in the year 2000 to 41,000 today,” says Aaryn Schmuhl, assistant superintendent for learning and leadership services since 2011. “We’ve built 25 new schools during that time.”
In addition, new demands were being placed on the district to provide more flexible schooling options for the growing student population. “In 2011, our superintendent laid out a vision to provide more choices for students, to better enable the district to meet them where they are as learners,” says Schmuhl. A key part of this vision was selecting a platform for blended and online learning. “We wanted to have a platform that was very flexible, so we could serve the most students possible,” says Schmuhl. Henry County administrators chose Edgenuity as the district’s blended and online learning platform in 2011. “We chose Edgenuity because their content is rigorous and is aligned to the Common Core and our state standards, and it is also flexible enough to allow teachers to supplement with additional content.” Henry County implemented Edgenuity across the entire district for grades 6-12. “We purchased seats for every student in every subject Edgenuity offers, some 84 courses in math, social studies, language arts, science, as well as some AP, electives and CTE courses,” says Schmuhl.
The district gave individual schools and teachers the freedom to decide how to use the platform. “We knew that Edgenuity would be so good, our teachers would naturally begin to use it, if we just gave them the opportunity. We now have people in every single school using Edgenuity without us mandating it,” he says. Schmuhl highlights the use of Edgenuity at the district’s 900-student Locust Grove Middle School as a particularly innovative model of blended learning. The school is divided into a blended academy and traditional school. In the blended environment, a station rotation model enables students to work in Edgenuity for two hours each day in their core content areas, then move to two hours of direct instruction. Since just one teacher is needed in the lab overseeing 75 students at a time, more teachers are free to provide instruction, creating much smaller class sizes. “It’s been really successful,” says Schmuhl. “Not only does this model create more individualized instruction and more teacher support, but students are able to move at their own pace through the Edgenuity content. It’s the best of both worlds.”
The results thus far have been impressive. “Locust Grove Middle School has conducted common assessments to compare the blended learning and traditional sides for the past two years,” says Schmuhl. “We’re seeing significantly improved achievement on the blended side across all content areas. We’re also seeing the number of discipline referrals almost reduced by half, and a significant increase in attendance.” Schmuhl attributes the results to students having more control over their education. “Students tell us that having options keeps them from becoming bored. They can learn when and how they want, and that gives them more of an incentive to come to school and be more engaged.” In offering advice to other districts interested in blended and online learning, Schmuhl cautions that a plan has to come first. “Don’t just look at price or a particular feature. Know what it is you want to accomplish, and choose a platform that fits your vision for instruction. For us, the clear choice was Edgenuity.”
To watch a new documentary about blended and online learning at Henry County Schools, go to www.edgenuity.com/HenryCounty.