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When the 21st Century Michigan Education Commission published a comprehensive report, the recommendations were bold. We must take these recommendations seriously.

The report aims to position Michigan’s education system as a national leader in education and developing talent. One thing is clear: Innovation is needed, at all levels.

St. Clair County schools, working with our partners at Michigan Virtual, are defining innovation through the creation of our own online/school-of-choice hybrid. The hybrid program — called LearnON — is a groundbreaking partnership — coordinated countywide through the St. Clair County Regional Education Service Agency (RESA). Powered by Michigan Virtual, it connects the county’s seven public school districts, using the teachers across these districts to instruct online courses.

St. Clair County RESA had already partnered with Michigan Virtual as an online course provider before the creation of LearnON. Michigan Virtual has provided high-quality online courses for students and professional development for educators across our state for 20 years, making it the perfect partner for this effort.

As part of this new hybrid model, St. Clair County teachers are trained through the same process as Michigan Virtual’s online instructors. This rigorous professional development focuses on engaging, motivating, establishing meaningful relationships with and providing effective feedback for online students, based on research and best practices. This model allows St. Clair County districts to purchase online courses but pay local teachers to instruct them, all while offering a wider variety of courses to students throughout the county — a win-win for our educators and students.

Innovation doesn’t always mean creating something new. It can often mean building on something that already exists or finding efficiencies to make something better. In its 2017 report, the 21st Century Education Commission identified several principles of a world-class education system, including the need to elevate the education profession by improving educator professional development and identifying ways to be efficient in our existing organizations.

Through this partnership with Michigan Virtual, we’re doing both. St. Clair County teachers have access to additional professional development opportunities, both online and face-to-face, with other Michigan Virtual instructors. And school districts are further developing the talented teachers they already employ by training them to deliver content and connect with students in a new, effective way. We’re able to offer students a greater variety of classes and more flexibility in selecting classes, and our students experience the benefits.

St. Clair County school districts launched this new approach last fall. There are no guarantees we’ve found the magic bullet. But we’re innovating in ways that can help our students succeed, which is always a step in the right direction.

Kevin Miller is superintendent of St. Clair County RESA.

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