I met Mary Bixby at an alternative school in San Diego 21 years ago. She explained how learners had flexible hours – some attended in the morning, others in the afternoon – and worked at their own pace through an online program and met with their counselor for goal setting and coaching. tutoring.
By 2000, Bixby had already been serving high school students who were not succeeding in traditional settings for six years through the Charter School of San Diego (CSSD). Since then, Bixby has launched two other nonprofits supporting seven more charter schools with 35 locations in Southern California. Altus Schools is the brand of the unifying network – it is a set of shared design principles, an instructional model and a beautiful model for learning environments. For its robust, repeatable support systems and using data to improve, CSSD, Altus’ flagship school, won the 2015 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and became one of the few educational organizations to win the National Quality Award.
In his 2018 book Charter Storm, Bixby outlines four qualities for new nonprofit public schools:
- Purpose: Students and teachers are engaged in goal-oriented work and are passionate about achieving attainable goals.
- Mastery: students and teachers strive for excellence.
- Autonomy: Students and teachers have the freedom to approach the program in innovative ways.
- Safety and Security: Students and teachers are physically safe.
These values have driven the steady growth of Altus Schools in Southern California.
Altus learning model
Jay Garrity, manager of educational services, explains that students enroll in Altus schools for several reasons: they are behind on credits (approximately 58%), fleeting, bullying or other social problems at an old school, pregnancy or parenting, a special talent that requires a flexible schedule and/or the freedom to accelerate, including early college credit opportunities.
About 60% of Altus learners are LatinX, about 70% are economically disadvantaged, and about 20% have special needs.
The blended learning program, classified as independent study in California, begins with a personalized post-high school goal-oriented plan. Learners take one or two classes at a time and take a class every three or four weeks. After making progress, some learners return to their traditional boarding school, others progress to graduation. Altus Schools have served over 48,000 learners with 15,000 graduates.
Although Edgenuity is the core curriculum, it is highly personalized and complemented by teacher-developed resources. The networks use Naviance for advice and NWEA for interim assessments. Illuminate provides data dashboards.
For the first two decades of operation, learners visited a resource center daily for about three hours. In the spring of 2020, the pandemic forced a rapid shift to fully remote delivery. This fall, resource centers reopened and about half of the current 3,500 learners regularly visit a resource center.
Most resource centers are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a morning teacher, a midday teacher and an evening teacher. Because they support multiple subjects, they are encouraged to obtain dual certification.
The Resource Centers are open 12 months a year with the summer months particularly busy as learners enroll to get back on the right academic path.
Altus University provides professional learning for staff, including trauma-informed practices and strategies to promote youth mental health.
Bixby prides itself on high levels of staff satisfaction and retention thanks to its clarity of purpose and the support of a large-scale organization with strong opportunities for learning and growth.
Altus Resource Centers look like high-tech workspaces with Steelcase modular furniture. There are a variety of spaces for individual work and meetings with teachers. There are conference rooms for small groups, video walls for presentations, science lab stations, and a kitchen.
Laptop and desktop computers are provided in the resource centers. Chromebooks and hotspots are available for home use.
Resource centers are in highly accessible areas, from southern San Diego County to San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
The Altus network includes an elementary center, Audeo Kids, which supports students at home with a hybrid model. Students come to the resource center one day a week in grade-level groups and work from home the other four days learning through synchronous and asynchronous digital resources as well as printed materials.
Six teachers support 152 learners with a mix of on-site and virtual lessons. The English and Math program is MobyMax. The social studies curriculum is from HMH.
Altus Networks benefits from a talented leadership team that executes an 11-step strategic planning process with four phases (Approach, Develop, Learn, Integrate) in annual cycles, including a one-week offsite retreat in the summer .
The network has never relied on private grants for its growth or sustainability. Each site is managed for quality results and budget sustainability.
For 20 years, Bixby has advanced a kid-centric mindset, rigorous strategic planning, and quality over quantity. Opportunities for Altus Networks to expand are limited in California given the political climate, but the robust model could inspire and support education officials in other states.