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01.07.16 – Luncheon Notes and Photos

Keynote Speaker – Brian Klochack, Principal, Michigan Connections Academy

After the invocation by Grace Shearer, song led by Paul Arnold and a wonderful buffet lunch, President Derek handed the meeting over to Jim Voogt who introduced guests and visiting Rotarians. Deborah Nykamp continued the meeting by introducing the club to three new members: Tracy Burke, Rodney Ghearing and Kristen Nauss.

President Derek promoted the new “Service Above Selfie” program. The contest involves submitting a photo of a group involved in a service project. The photo /project that is judged most worthy will be awarded $2500. Second place and third place winners will get $1500 and $1000.

Chelsea Dubey introduced the keynote speaker for the day, Bryan Klochack. Bryan has 25 years experience in education, starting in school maintenance, then as a divers ed instructor and finally as the Principle of the Michigan Connections Academy. MICA is a virtual charter school that was founded as an alternative to a “bricks and mortar” school. The school is based in Okemos, MI., employs 83 teachers and support staff and currently serves 1700 students in K-12 programs. The free charter school meets all state education standards. It’s program is available to any student in the state and offers certified and qualified teachers and councilors. The school was founded in 2010 as the first of two institutions of its kind in Michigan. Initial enrollment included 389 students served by a staff of 11. In 2016, there are now ten similar schools in the state serving over 8,000 students. In 2011, MICA earned an “A” rating and Bryan asserts that their five-fold growth in five years has not impacted student success rates. The law in Michigan stipulates there can be no more than 2% of students enrolled in a virtual charter program and currently only .5% are currently enrolled. 124 of MICA students are from Kent County. MICA teachers work 200 days per year.

The publicly funded virtual charter school alternative is now available in about half the United States, with a nation-wide enrollment of 65,000 student in 37 different programs. MICA is part of the national organization, Connections in Education. Bryan enumerated the many reasons given for why students would want to pursue this education alternative. 44% want a change from their local school. 41% sited the flexibility of this new format. 35% were concerned about safety. 29% suggested that program offered more parent involvement. 17% noted health concerns, including some students that wanted to continue their education even though they had serious or terminal health problems. 10% said bullying was a problem in the local school. 3% of the students wanted a virtual school so they could pursue other sports or arts related opportunities as well. (One student is on the US National Ski team).

Bryan explained that the student/teacher relationship is equal or stronger than a traditional classroom. In addition to regular on-line communications, teachers talk by phone with the student and the family at least 45 minutes every other week. In addition, 70 field trips were arranged last year where students get socialization experiences.

MICA is funded at the same level as regular charter schools even thought they have no school building to support. There are significant other expenses in technology infrastructure however. Every student is provided with a computer and w-fi connection is paid for. Also the cost to develop this unique curriculum is an added expense.

MICA teachers are not part of the MEA

The field trips and on-line/social media experiences make up for some of the social development and conflict resolution components of regular classroom experiences. Web cams, individualized instruction and small group interactions also serve to mitigate the lack of tradition classroom experiences. Live lessons at set times are arranged.

Graduation rates and other success measures are hard to come by in the early stages of this type of program.

Advanced Placement and Gifted and Talented programs are being integrated into MICA programs.

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