Note: The information in this profile represents SY2010-11 unless otherwise indicated.

School/organization overview

Type District school: Alternative
Locale Urban
Headquarters Albuquerque, New Mexico
First year of operation SY2009-10
Grades served 8-12
% FRL 56% (Albuquerque Public Schools)
% Black or Hispanic 61% (Albuquerque Public Schools)
Per-pupil funding $6,789 (Albuquerque Public Schools)
Now profiled as Albuquerque Public Schools

Blended-learning program

Name N/A
Focus Dropout prevention/recovery
Year launched SY2009-10
Outside investments/grants
Enrollment 1,500
Blended grades
Blended subjects
Math, English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Science
Content Self-developed, HippoCampus (NROC), Ideal-NM
Independent LMS Blackboard
Independent gradebook Blackboard
Independent assessment Blackboard
Professional development

Program model

Program model: Enriched Virtual

Model description
First course meeting is face-to-face. Students complete the remainder of coursework online as long as they maintain at least a “C” grade.

Program background

History and context
Albuquerque Public Schools, a 93,000-student school district, set up the Albuquerque Evening School nearly 90 years ago to provide dropout- and credit-recovery services, primarily to war veterans. The Evening School used a high school building during the traditional school’s off hours, but in recent years it began to outgrow this space. District officials considered shuttering the Evening School as spending cuts strained the district’s budget.

Instead, the district decided in 2009 to use the Evening School to pilot a new blended-learning model. The new mission was to provide alternative education opportunities through a variety of electronic delivery methods that promote independence and excellence in learning. The model promised to save money and thus operate within the confines of the district’s tighter budget. The model also promised to be a strong fit with the majority of the school’s clientele. Students at the Evening School frequently had trouble staying in school because of their day jobs. The administration hoped that by moving to a blended model, students could use their newfound time flexibility to work while also completing diploma requirements. Surrounding schools supported the idea because they generally found this group of students challenging to serve and were glad for an alternative.

In the spring of 2010, the alternative school opened its doors under the name of eCADEMY and offered its first 11 courses to students across the district’s other high schools. The district also began constructing a new building to house eCADEMY. Dr. Tom Ryan, who led the effort to set up eCADEMY, began working with the administration and the teachers union to define a new charter for the school, including how to adapt existing teacher contracts for the new model.

Blended model
Currently, eCADEMY’s computer labs are open to students from 3:10 p.m. to 9 p.m. Until the new eCADEMY facility was completed in April 2011, eCADEMY students shared a facility with a traditional school.

At the start of the spring, fall, and winter semesters, students meet face-to-face with eCADEMY faculty. Students who maintain a C grade or better do not have to show up on the physical campus again during the course, although some choose to use the computer labs on campus. Teachers are available to meet with students during physical office hours if students want further face-to-face interaction.

New Mexico’s seat-time requirement stipulates that students must log on to a virtual classroom for as many days as they would be required to appear in a traditional classroom. Thus, students generally must log on to the virtual classroom five days per week. A designated mentor—either a teacher or parent—receives alerts if a student fails to log on enough.

The school offers all subjects online, except for several face-to-face electives, such as jewelry making. eCADEMY’s faculty departments create courses themselves, although they use or incorporate content from the state’s virtual high school, Ideal New Mexico (Ideal-NM), and the National Repository of Online Courses (NROC), a free open-source repository of online course content.

Blackboard provides the learning management system, which includes short-cycle assessments to help teachers customize pacing for each student. Courses generally include end-of-the-week assessments. Some also require a pre-test at the beginning of the week. All schools in the Albuquerque district upload student information and the active directory into Blackboard.

Teachers at eCADEMY earn $190 per semester per student per class. The school arrived at this rate by dividing an average full-time teacher salary by the average total number of students that teachers would have if they were teaching a full load at a traditional school. Officials negotiated with the teachers union to agree to this new pay formula. Class size remains at roughly 30 students per class, and most teachers offer two to three classes. eCADEMY opens the opportunity for teachers to work all year, which substantially improves their earning potential.

Notable results
eCADEMY has realized significant cost savings with its labor expense because of its unique teacher pay formula. In a traditional setting, a teacher earns roughly $5,000 per class. At eCADEMY, by paying teachers a set $190 per semester per student per class, the school can offer classes for only a few students, at a rate of only $190 per student, rather than the $5,000 minimum charge. This offers the school flexibility to offer courses for smaller numbers of students per class.

The program stands out for its facility cost savings. Ryan said that a typical comprehensive high school for 2,000 to 2,500 full-time students in the area is about 450,000 square feet at a cost of $160 to $200 per foot. The new eCADEMY building, in contrast, is less than 100,000 square feet at a cost of less than $130 per square foot. “eCADEMY will be the least expensive high school we have ever built,” Ryan said. The district is able to capture these savings because the building does not include a gym, shares campus space with another school building, has a small cafeteria that doubles as the multi-purpose meeting area, has very few specialized rooms, and has a small parking lot.

eCADEMY is less than 25 percent of the size of a typical comprehensive school in the area, but it will be able to accommodate the same number of students. This efficiency is the result of the school’s long hours, which are from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., which allows the district to spread occupancy over more hours. The smaller facility leads to the reduction of attendant operating costs, including custodial, security, utilities, and cafeteria expenses.

eCADEMY also has found savings through the elimination of textbooks and of paper reproduction and storage expenses, as well as through the reduction of aides and support staff.

During the spring 2010 pilot testing period, eCADEMY had a 70 percent retention rate. This compares to the 50 percent retention rate before the school moved to a hybrid model. That summer, eCADEMY enrolled over 500 students and reported a 90 percent pass rate among these students. Most students attending eCADEMY took courses for credit recovery while still enrolled in their home high schools. This makes it difficult to ascribe a graduation rate result specifically to the work of eCADEMY.

Teachers at eCADEMY keep logs on when they contact parents. Dave Wells, the principal of eCADEMY, reports that there has been a 35 percent increase in parental contacts with the blended program and that his work has shifted from disciplining students in the old face-to-face environment to working with parents toward the success of their children.

On the horizon
eCADEMY has been challenged to keep up with the growing demand for the program. New Mexico passed a graduation requirement for the class of 2013 that mandated that each student complete an online, Advanced Placement, or dual-credit course. Ryan said that this requirement could push eCADEMY’s enrollment up to 6,000 students in the next two years. One constraint on growth is that eCADEMY requires its teachers to obtain district certification in online teaching, and this makes rapid expansion difficult.

Ryan and district leaders are considering entering into public-private partnerships to enhance eCADEMY’s programs. For example, Ryan is thinking about partnering with Sprint to provide free 3G connectivity for students, in exchange for allowing Sprint to use school facilities for cell towers. He also plans to work with the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce and other community members to allow students to access eCADEMY courses on their physical premises.

In the future, the eCADEMY staff would like to evolve its system to move away from semester-based courses in favor of rolling enrollments. They also anticipate that the system’s use of grade levels will become more fluid. As for tools, Ryan notes that an iPad-type device could become a helpful tool for giving eCADEMY students mobile connectivity, although such devices do not yet allow administrators to push out programming to a user network.

In addition, Ryan hopes to develop more of a cloud environment instead of storing student information in a data center. He plans to increase help-desk support for eCADEMY to make assistance for students available 24 hours, not just during office hours. Finally, Ryan would like to see an integrated system that collects assessment data, identifies where students need help relative to specific state standards, and generates customized interventions for each student.


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