Maine Charter School Moves Away From Online Learning Model

Jul 11, 2017

The Snow Pond Arts Academy charter school in Sidney had an ambitious goal — to be the first public school in Maine to use a model called “blended learning,” in which most of student work takes place in an online platform. But after only a year, the school is abandoning its virtual approach.

When the Snow Pond Arts Academy launched last fall, it was the first charter school with a performing arts focus, but it also embraced so-called “blended learning” where some learning occurs in a classroom, but much happens online.

When Maine Public Radio visited the school last September, then-Academic Department Head Koren Coughlin said the online curriculum, from the company K12 Inc,. let her be creative with her lesson plans.

“And then I can be innovative and bridge from the core academics to the special interests on the art side of the things,” she said. “Music interests, dance interests, theatre interests.”

However, the school struggled out of the gate. It couldn’t find staff and didn’t meet projected enrollment numbers. And in an evaluation that occurred 90 days after Snow Pond opened, the state’s Charter School Commission said the school’s teachers weren’t adequately trained on how teach online.

And students shared similar concerns. Back in September, Freshman Navaeh Schuchardt said the online program was difficult to use, and that she didn’t learn as much as she had in her previous school.

“I had my moments where I thought I was going to leave because of K12,” says Schuchardt. “But I was like, the arts, that’s the path to the future! So I’m sticking through it.”

But Students like Schuchardt won’t need to stick through it anymore. On Tuesday, the school told Maine’s Charter School Commission that this “blended learning” model would be no more. As part of a “School Improvement Plan” that Snow Pond created with the commission, the school says it will get rid of its online platform next year.

Snow Pond Principal Heather King says the school didn’t train its teachers well enough last year. And over the course of the year, she says students found online learning to be isolating and less engaging.

“The feedback we got was that students really, really were yearning for that classroom instruction,” Emery says.”

By leaving behind the online K12 platform, the school says it will save about $140,000. That money will help Snow Pond will take five classroom teachers from part-time to full-time and add a part-time foreign language teacher. But there are other concerns. At Tuesday’s Charter School Commission meeting, member Nichi Farnham worried that students may have been hurt by the school’s turnover and struggles in its first year. Other commission members assure that the school will be heavily monitored over the next school year. And with new leadership, the commission says it believes Snow Pond is in good hands.