Educating the Modern Student

Keith Richardson
Keith Richardson, Crossroads Flex High principal, says one of his challenges in the new role will be personal: “I’ll have to challenge myself to be more flexible when it comes to a schedule and when it comes to having a routine day, having routine hours.”

Sometimes the best way to keep kids in school is to let them spend more time outside the classroom.

Crossroads Flex, Cary’s newest high school, opens this month with a flexible schedule that will benefit performers, athletes, students with jobs, or those with family responsibilities.

“We have to be adaptive as a school system,” said Drew Cook, the Wake County Public School System’s senior director for high school programs. “Sometimes there are barriers and constraints that a more traditional school may have in meeting the needs of all students.”

With a mix of online and in-person courses, the school will offer the 22 core classes needed for graduation, and a variety of electives. Small classes will be scheduled throughout the day, from early morning to early evening, at the school, located at 5651 Dillard Drive.

“We see this as a reflection of national and international trends,” Cook continued. “The reality is digital learning and distance learning has become the norm in many cases, certainly at the post-secondary level.”

Initially, the school will partner with North Carolina Virtual Public Schools for its online courses. NCVPS is already serving nearly 2 million students in Wake County with a variety of classes including honors and Advanced Placement courses, foreign language and physical education.

“We are seeing similar schools at both the district level and school level (a school within a school) pop up across the state. They typically start small, but they have had growth each year,” said Adam Renfro, outreach and support coordinator for NCVPS. “These schools are really instrumental in meeting the needs of the modern student.”

The reliance on online classes means Crossroads Flex students must be motivated, digitally savvy and organized, says Tamani Anderson Powell, director of marketing and communications for Wake County Public Schools. Excellent time-management skills will be vital to keeping up with the work.

Students will be provided computers and other technical support if needed, she says. Students will have minimum hours they will be required to spend in class, as well as minimum hours they will need to be logged into online classes.

“It is for a particular student, it is not for everybody,” said Powell. “It’s online; it’s anytime, but you still have to do the work.

“It’s for any kid who feels a flexible schedule will work better for them. One (incoming) student said her mom has MS (multiple sclerosis). As her mother’s disease progresses, she wants to be able to stay home and help her mom. This is a way she can still have a connection with adults in school, but still do a lot online and be there to support her mom.”

After the first round of applications in May, 66 students were accepted. Registration was extended through the summer, and officials anticipate reaching their target of 100 enrollees by the first day of school, Aug. 29.

Keith Richardson, the school’s new principal, spent five years at York Elementary in Raleigh where he was known for greeting every student by name. He looks forward to forging deeper relationships with the small group of high-schoolers at Crossroads Flex.

“I’ll have the opportunity to get to know what their specific goals and interests are,” he said. “Just knowing that information is going to help me form relationships with those students, not just by name, but how we can best support them.”

In addition to the principal, officials expect to hire three to four teachers, a counselor and an office manager. Depending on students’ needs, staff duties are likely to go beyond traditional job descriptions.

Communication will be key, Richardson said, “especially meeting with students and families one-on-one, to determine progress of the students, their success and what their needs are. It will definitely be more than the traditional role of principal.”

Students will come to the school at different grade levels, with different academic needs, says Richardson. Some may have more success in a small group, while others may require individual instruction.

“It will be a challenge to make sure we are meeting the needs of those students. And meeting their needs during the time that they are available,” he said. “The purpose of this program is to meet them where they are with their schedule. That’s something you don’t find in a traditional school.”

But for all the innovation, some things will remain the same, says Cook with Wake County Public Schools.

“We’re still talking about the basics: the value of relationships, building rapport, trust and respect, and the social and emotional well-being of our students,” he said. “Sometimes when you start talking about technology and digital, people start thinking about robots. If anything (because of the size of the school) this model may allow us to do an even better job than we’re able to do in a more traditional setting.”

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