Submitted by Sajan George, founder and CEO, Matchbook Learning Note: The information in this profile represents SY2011-12 unless otherwise indicated.

School/organization overview

Name A.L. Holmes Elementary-Middle School (in partnership with Matchbook Learning)
Type District School: Turnaround
Locale Urban
Headquarters Detroit, Michigan
First year of operation Before 2000
Grades served K-8
Enrollment 400
% FRL 88%
% Black or Hispanic 99%
Per-pupil funding $7,600

School/organization background

History and context  In the summer of 2011, Detroit City School District engaged Matchbook Learning, LLC to lead a turnaround effort for the struggling A.L. Holmes Elementary-Middle School. Matchbook Learning is a start-up turnaround firm that specializes in helping the bottom five percent of schools in America become excellent schools, in part by leveraging the potential of blended learning. Matchbook Learning does not seek to run schools in perpetuity as charter schools do or to replace 100 percent of the local teaching staff with its own staff, as independent schools often do. Instead, it turns back the school to the school district to run using the new blended-learning design at the conclusion of the turnaround contract.

Blended-learning program

Name N/A
Focus General
Year launched SY2011-12
Outside investments/grants $1.5 million over 3 years
Enrollment 400
Blended grades 3-8
Blended subjects Math, English Language Arts
Content Connections Academy
SIS District-developed
Independent LMS None
Independent gradebook None
Independent assessment  DIEBELS, STAR Math, STAR Reading
Professional development None

Program model

Program model: Individual Rotation Model description Within each subject, small groups of students rotate on a customized schedule among learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning.

Program background

Blended model Matchbook Learning has implemented the Individual-Rotation model of blended learning at A.L. Holmes. Within each subject, small groups of students rotate on a customized schedule among learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning. Matchbook Learning has subcontracted with Connections Academy to deliver the online courses and provide the online teachers. The local face-to-face teachers have remained in place. Both sets of teachers communicate weekly to plan the instruction strategy for the week. They work in tandem to deliver the material to students. The idea behind this method is to use the online teachers and curriculum to shore up the local teachers, who before were having a hard time producing strong learning outcomes. The students all have netbooks and rotate on a fixed schedule among modalities, but each group has a unique playlist of where to be and when. They spend roughly half their time with face-to-face teachers and half their time with online teachers. Matchbook Learning chose to deploy the Individual-Rotation model because leaders at Matchbook Learning believe that for below-grade-level students, teachers need to be able to personalize instruction for each student to get him or her back on track. The blended model allows teachers to customize the learning pathway for students on a week-by-week basis. The Individual-Rotation model preserves and strengthens the critical role of the teachers in students’ learning. The goal is to use the online resources, including content and teachers, to make the face-to-face teachers more effective. The teacher’s role changes significantly under the Matchbook Learning model. Instead of working in silos, with each classroom relatively independent from outside help, the new model wraps the classroom and teacher in a strong scaffolding of support. Online teachers work weekly with the face-to-face teachers to set goals and design the learning rotations. Matchbook Learning site coordinators and the principal are involved in daily classroom observation. They coach teachers on how and where to intersect and intervene to make the experience more meaningful for students. A robust data system monitors results on a day-by-day basis, and Matchbook Learning insists on continual data analysis to measure the effectiveness of daily strategies. Notable results To measure the effects of the Matchbook Learning implementation at A.L. Holmes, a standardized test was administered in November 2011 and again at the end of May 2012. The test was a LEAP assessment aligned to the Michigan Department of Education standards and was administered online by Connections Academy.

The highlights of the test results are as follows:
  • 74% of students in Reading and 83% of students in Math made satisfactory gains of 10% or more from the pre- to the post- test.
  • Of those students making more than 10% improvement over the year,
    • 38% made gains between 10 and 20%,
    • 33% made gains between 20% and 30%, and
    • 29% made greater than 30% gains from the pre- to the post-test.
Before these test results were available, it was noted that enrollment in the school had increased 15 percent, a significant feat in a district that is closing schools because of emigration. Indeed, Detroit’s student population has declined from 150,000 to 60,000 students in recent years. According to Matchbook, A.L. Holmes is the only school in the city that is growing. Furthermore, nine out of 30 students in the graduating 8th-grade class had qualified for one of the top magnet schools in the area based on early results from their 2011-12 performance. The district asked Matchbook Learning to expand to grades K-2 in the fall because of impressive early results.

At first the local teachers were quite challenged by Matchbook Learning and its blended model. They struggled for the initial three months. By month four, however, their perseverance and commitment to the blended design paid off and perspective had changed as the positive effects of the program began to take root. In a recent survey of all teachers in grades 3-8 at A.L. Holmes, a full 100 percent of teachers claimed they would not go back to the time before the school was blended. These were all teachers that Matchbook Learning inherited when it began at the school, not any that it has recruited. The initial start-up costs of procuring netbooks, online content, and training have all been covered by a three year SIG grant. These additional funds, however, will end at the conclusion of three years after which Matchbook is confident the model will continue within A.L. Holmes Elementary-Middle School’s normal per-pupil funding and with some new-found cost efficiencies. On the horizon A. L. Holmes and Matchbook Learning anticipate the expansion of the blended-learning program to grades K-2 in the fall of 2012. The program will also cover four additional content areas. In the 2012-13 school year, A.L. Holmes and Matchbook Learning will partner with Education Elements to implement a robust, interactive, visual, and tactical way to both display and act on student achievement data on a daily basis. As more online content, assessment, and professional development tools emerge, A.L. Holmes and Matchbook Learning hope for the development of a common API in which these elements could be integrated, interchangeable, and easily aligned to Common Core and LMS platforms. They are also hopeful that meanwhile, Michigan and other states will consider more blended-learning models for their turnaround school strategy. Currently, administrators from Matchbook Learning are discussing this strategy with authorities in both Michigan and Tennessee.

Contact information

Name: Sajan George Title: Founder and CEO, Matchbook Learning Email:


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