Submitted by Ben Rayer, Founder and CEO
Note: The information in this profile represents SY2012-13 unless otherwise indicated.

School/organization overview

Name Touchstone Education
Type Charter Management Organization
Locale Urban
Headquarters Newark, New Jersey
First year of operation SY2012-13
Grades served 6
Enrollment 83
% FRL 89%
% Black or Hispanic 99%
Per-pupil funding $14,520

School/organization background

History and context
Touchstone Education is a Charter Management Organization that plans to build a network of charter schools throughout the country. Merit Preparatory Academy, which opened in the fall of 2012,  is the flagship school under Touchstone.

Blended-learning program

Name Merit Prep Academy
Focus General
Year launched SY2012-13
Enrollment 83
Blended grades 6
Blended subjects Math, English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Science
Content Compass Learning, Khan Academy, Achieve 3000, iReady
SIS PowerSchool
Independent LMS Canvas
Independent gradebook Kickboard
Independent assessment  MAP (NWEA), Junyo
Professional development None

Program model

Program model: Flex

Model description
Students attend a brick-and-mortar location each day where they receive online content instruction in the core subjects four days a week (Monday-Thursday). Student schedules are individually customized during the last two hours of each day and Friday, based on student progress in the core subjects.

Program description

How much time do students spend on campus in this blended-learning program? How much of this time do students spend learning online or with educational software?
Student attend the campus Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm. After school programs are also available until 5 pm. Fifty percent of content in math and language arts are delivered online.

Briefly describe the offline components of this blended-learning program.
Days are split into four 110-minute instructional blocks. During each instructional block, students spend about half of their time “offline” in small group activities or assessment projects.  Additionally, students may be pulled aside from online instruction for targeted direct instruction, tutoring or group projects. Students use computers to record observations and submit assessments and homework. Students can also participate in daily advisory and electives (physical education, clubs, etc.).

How does this blended-learning program fit into the rest of the students’ school day?
While students spend most of their time in instructional blocks for specific subjects, students also spend two hours each day in a “flex” period that allows for remediation for students below grade proficiency, or for other students to take elective or advanced courses. Most of the school day on Fridays is focused on similar “flex” activities or courses.

What are the teachers’ roles and responsibilities in both the online and offline components of this blended-learning program?
Teachers use a data-dashboard to view student progress in real time and adjust instructional content and student groupings for the following day. Additionally, teachers meet each Friday to review student progress and create coursework plans for the following week. Teachers are responsible to decide how and when students will be introduced to new content, and which students they are grouped with for other activities. 

What other adults are involved in this blended-learning program (e.g., paraprofessionals, learning coaches, counselors) and what are their roles and responsibilities?
Teachers perform all roles and responsibilities within the program; there are no other adults directly involved. There is a school leader and a dean, who oversee programming and provide cultural support.

Briefly describe the set-up of physical space for this blended-learning program.
All students meet in a large learning space called “The Stadium”. Within this room are three smaller seminar rooms that allow teachers to pull aside up to 15 students for quiet, separate instruction. The walls are glass so the teachers can observe everything going on from the outside. The school also includes a science lab.

How are students grouped within this blended-learning program?
The 63 6th-grade students are divided into three groups without regard to performance levels. Within these groups, they receive differentiated instruction by working within varying-sized teams to progress through learning activities. While they smaller groups are tied to academic progress, grouping is very flexible from day to day and subject to subject. Teachers are allowed to organize group work according to how they believe students would be best served.

Do students have some element of control over the pacing of their learning? Are students tied to a semester-based course schedule or can they complete courses at any time? Briefly describe any requirements or benchmarks in place to ensure student progress.
Students are not tied to a traditional schedule for completing coursework. Individual students regularly set goals to reach grade-level standards within the school year. There are 6 reporting periods set as specific times to officially inform parents on student progress. Students advance through coursework at the speed in which they understand the content, which is driven by Common Core standards.

Describe the academic results of the program, using quantitative data where possible.
It is too early in implementation to report on academic results.

Have you or are you planning to scale your program model to more/other schools?
Touchstone Education will open another school in the Newark area next fall (SY2013-14). They plan to open five schools within five years in New Jersey and then expand into other states to create a national network of charter schools under Touchstone. All schools will use a Flex model.

Contact information

Name: Ben Rayer
Title: Founder and CEO
Phone: 215-850-2704


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