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Education Transformation


Education transformation
Annex School near Weiser becomes Annex Charter School

Friday, January 14, 2011 10:58 AM PST
Annex Charter School sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade teacher Kristy Simpson (left) instructs student Shelbie Hoffman (center) how to write on the class' newest piece of technology, the MOBI, as student Tessa Rasom looks on during an introductory exercise Thursday in which the students learned how to use the MOBI by writing a haiku about monkeys. More technology in the classrooms is one of the benefits switching from a public school to a charter school will provide.
Annex - Thursday afternoon Annex sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade teacher Kristy Simpson introduced a new piece of technology to her class: the MOBI, a Mobile Interactive Whiteboard that acts like a wireless Mimeo or SMART board that both the teacher and students can use during lessons.

The MOBI and Classroom Performance System clicker are just two pieces of technology teachers and officials in the Annex School District would like to incorporate more of at the school in the future. That goal is more achievable because of a restructuring the school is undergoing this year: transforming from a regular public school to a public charter school. The name change is already in place. What was known as the Annex School is now Annex Charter School, and by next school year, the kindergarten- through eighth-grade charter school's new educational model will be entirely established.

"It's so new," Annex Charter School Administrator Dan Beaubien said, adding it's interesting for the charter school committee formed to look at the things other charter schools are doing. "We want to be like that, but we're just getting started.

"We want to do a better job at everything," he said.

After deciding to become a charter school, the Annex School District applied for and received a federal Charter School Incentive Grant administered through the state of Oregon that allows for the switch from regular public to charter school. The incentive grant provides funding for the planning, program design and implementation of charter schools for the first 36 months. The Annex Charter School is currently in the first, start-up phase.

"We're kind of at that beginning stage where everything is still new to us," Beaubien said, adding he sort of feels like Lewis and Clark at the beginning of their expedition West: They had a general idea of the direction they were headed but no outlined map to follow.

The grant is key to the charter school plan because it provides the means for the Annex Charter School officials and teachers to establish and begin implementing their vision and set the school up for the future. By becoming a charter school, which is slightly less restricted by Oregon state education policies than regular public schools, the school can create an educational experience best-suited for their students and the community.

The grant also provides necessary funding for launching their new school. Keeping up with technological advances and providing more opportunities educationally through technology is a priority at the school because students don't learn like they used to, Beaubien said, and technology is so much a part of their daily lives. With the grant funds, the school will be able to expand on the technology currently incorporated into the classroom to provide an even more useful and varied educational experience than the traditional model. Without the funding, those advances would be impossible.

"Otherwise, if you can't afford a new car, you can't buy a new car," Beaubien said.

The grant also gives the close-knit school of about 53 students the freedom in choosing a more tailored educational theme than otherwise offered at public schools. The grant can also be used for professional development and to pay substitute teachers when necessary to allow for professional development.

The school's mission statement is "to provide quality instruction, to create well-mannered and well-educated citizens," Beaubien said, and the charter school theme is to offer "customized instruction" - providing the kind of educational instruction each child needs on an individual basis in order to become a well-mannered and well-educated citizen.

"Whatever you need, we want to provide that for you," Beaubien said.

While the customized instruction theme is less specific than some other charter school themes that focus on one subject or content area, Beaubien said, when discussing themes for the proposed school, no consensus could be reached because everybody had different ideas on what could be the priority. A community program-oriented theme, focusing on the Annex community, and an agriculture-oriented theme suitable for the agricultural community in which the school is situated were proposed, as was a technology-themed school because technology is ubiquitous in today's society. In the end, because the main priority is to offer the very best education possible to every student based on their needs and learning styles, the customized-instruction theme was chosen.

"If we just chose one thing, I kind of feel like we'd be excluding others," Beaubien said.

He said the Annex Charter School is intended to be kind of like the doctor - able to utilize any number of treatment options available and prescribe one tailored to a person's needs.

The charter school path the school is on is creating a mixture of the old and the new.

"We're trying not to lose the old, but we don't want to just stay old," Beaubien said. "We want to have the new, too.

"I think we're just trying to do a good thing for kids, and this will be good for us," he said.

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