The Barney Charter School Ini­tiative helped to open several new schools this year. Prexels

Four first-year charter schools from all over the country opened their doors as members of Hillsdale’s Barney Charter School Ini­tiative last year. This year, the BCSI staff con­tinue to work with the schools to make sure they offer a good edu­cation to their stu­dents.

The four new schools are Ivywood Clas­sical Academy in Ply­mouth, Michigan; Northwest Ohio Clas­sical Academy in Toledo, Ohio; Treasure Coast Clas­sical Academy in Stuart, Florida; and Treasure Valley Clas­sical Academy in Fruitland, Idaho. Each of these joined BCSI in 2019 and con­tinued to work with Hillsdale College as they began the 2019 – 2020 school year last fall. 

BCSI is a program that seeks to promote clas­sical edu­cation and support charter schools nationwide. According to its website, one of their primary goals is “that public-school stu­dents may be edu­cated in the liberal arts and sci­ences and receive instruction in the prin­ciples of moral char­acter and civic virtue.”

Kathleen O’Toole, assistant provost for K‑12 edu­cation, said that all four schools are doing well in the midst of their first year. 

“All the stu­dents are getting to know each other, the teachers are getting to know their stu­dents,” said O’Toole, who recently visited Treasure Coast Clas­sical Academy.

BCSI leaders worked with school admin­is­trators to found the schools. For this, O’Toole said, they did four training ses­sions for each school board, as well as training for the prin­cipals. There is also a two-week training for teachers in the beginning of August where BCSI takes them through a “deep dive into the cur­riculum,” looking at how to teach in a clas­sical school setting.

O’Toole said BCSI’s cur­riculum team also visits each school at some point. On the first day, they observe the teachers. For the next day or two, they give rec­om­men­da­tions and feedback to the teachers and give them a chance to ask ques­tions.

“A lot of the support we give brand new teachers is how to do spe­cific tech­niques,” O’Toole said.

One such tech­nique, for example, focuses on teaching bar mod­eling — a pic­torial rep­re­sen­tation of math problems — from the Sin­gapore Math cur­riculum. To instruct stu­dents in this method suc­cess­fully, O’Toole said, teachers must be familiar with bar mod­eling before taking it to the classroom. 

O’Toole said BCSI serves to support charter schools, espe­cially ones that are just getting started. She said no matter the school, the first year is always dif­ficult, espe­cially when faculty, admin­is­trators, stu­dents, and fam­ilies don’t know each other yet. Also, teachers in these con­texts are often new to clas­sical edu­cation, and BCSI helps them learn how to teach within the clas­sical method.

“Putting together a school is a hard thing. It’s like starting a business except you’ve got hun­dreds of children coming to school for the first time,” she said. “We provide them some guidance. We help them work on classroom man­agement and how to teach every subject.”

Treasure Coast Clas­sical Academy

Janine Swearingin, prin­cipal at Treasure Coast Clas­sical Academy in Florida, said the school held its first day of classes on Aug. 12 and opened with 535 stu­dents. After losing some, she said the school grew, and there are now 620 stu­dents. The school has a waiting list, but it is no longer accepting appli­cants for this year. TCCA is cur­rently a K‑6 insti­tution, and it will expand to 7th grade next year. The plan, Swearingin said, is to be a full K‑12 school by 2025.

She said before she joined, a group of founders in the Martin County area were inter­ested in clas­sical edu­cation and decided they wanted to form a part­nership with BCSI.

One benefit this new school offers, Swearingin said, is that it pro­vides more alter­na­tives for parents looking to send their children to school.

“In this county, there are only two other charter schools,” she said. “One serves stu­dents on the autism spectrum, and one is a highly spe­cialized program for high school stu­dents.”

This means that TCCA is the only charter school of choice for many parents in the area. She noted that about 20% of stu­dents are attending private schools. But based on TCCA’s current enrollment numbers, Swearingin said the clas­sical model appeals to a large amount of the pop­u­lation in that county.

Swearingin praised the resources and help BCSI has offered them, saying there is an “over­whelming amount of support,” including mate­rials for pro­fes­sional devel­opment. Last summer, the cur­riculum team trained the teachers in all subject areas, including Sin­gapore Math, Access Lit­eracy, and other foun­da­tions of edu­cation. They also focused on classroom man­agement. She said BCSI team members have been acces­sible for teachers, whether by phone or by email.

Six weeks into the school year, Swearingin said, the BCSI team returned to observe the teachers in their class­rooms.

“They pro­vided some really prac­tical feedback to help us implement and grow our program,” she said. “They expressed that they saw a lot of growth.”

Swearingin said she has weekly phone calls with the cur­riculum team, as well as quar­terly calls with BCSI leaders. She also has been men­tored by Robert Garrow, prin­cipal at Golden View Clas­sical Academy in Golden, Col­orado.

Treasure Valley Clas­sical Academy

While Treasure Valley Clas­sical Academy is in its first year, its building is not new, according to Clinta Condra, assistant prin­cipal. It’s a 90-year-old structure on the main street in Fruitland, Idaho, and it has mostly served as a school throughout its history. Condra said it was a site just waiting for TVCA to occupy it.

The school began as a grass­roots effort, Condra said. Local people had an interest in opening a charter school, and after forming a school board, they were “trained, guided, and vetted by Hillsdale.” Around this time, Prin­cipal Steve Lambert was recruited. Three years later, the school opened its doors. It now has more than 300 stu­dents enrolled in grades K‑6th.

“There was a strong interest on the part of those who formed the board,” Condra said. “And even in a small town, there’s a large scale demand.”

Condra, like Swearingin, high­lighted the training board members and teachers received from BCSI staff.

“Since the school year began, some of those same experts have been sent back for a couple of visits,” he said. “They field ques­tions from teachers and offer advice and guidance.”

Condra said the school staff also plan to attend BCSI’s summer con­fer­ences on Hillsdale’s campus. 

“Our teachers have all got their tickets. It’s gen­erated a lot of hype,” he said. “I myself have been to a con­ference for admin­is­trators last summer. But this will be for teachers the first such con­ference, since we’re such a new school.”

It’s important that parents have mul­tiple options for where to send their children to school, Condra said. He said because of the American approach to a free-market system, having a charter school like TVCA as an alter­native to standard public schools allows local fam­ilies to have a choice on where they want their children to receive an edu­cation.

Condra also empha­sized that TVCA exists to form vir­tuous cit­izens and to prepare them to live well.

“We prepare stu­dents to become informed cit­izens and to pursue whatever kind of pro­fes­sional incli­na­tions they might have. We are not simply a ‘college factory,’ although the rigor of our cur­riculum is such that stu­dents — by time they graduate — will be well pre­pared to succeed in college, if that’s the path they’d like to choose.”

TVCA focuses on lit­eracy and numeracy, or math­e­matical lit­eracy, which are foun­da­tions for other sub­jects, Condra said. For this first year, he said, as stu­dents come in from the local public schools, faculty have been paying attention to what exactly needs reme­di­ation in terms of learning and content.

“Where nec­essary, we’re setting aside rich parts of the cur­riculum, but they’re designed to be spi­raled back into place in later years,” he said. “So maybe extra time will be set aside in a grade, and they’ll miss some lit­eracy or medieval history. But they’ll get that in future grades at least once more.”

Ivywood Clas­sical Academy

Since opening for the first time in Sep­tember, Ivywood Clas­sical Academy has about 130 stu­dents in grades K‑5th, according to Prin­cipal Stephanie Kooiker. Next year, they plan to add sixth grade. She said open enrollment began Feb. 25, and the school already received 70 appli­cants. Their pro­jected enrollment for next year is 325.

Kooiker said that when their board pres­ident and his wife had their first child almost six years ago, they were looking into clas­sical schools. At the time, Liv­ingston Clas­sical Academy was the only other BCSI school in Michigan, Kooiker said. They decided then that they wanted to open another BCSI insti­tution in the state.

The BCSI team met with ICA’s teachers, as well as LCA’s, since they had many new hires, according to Kooiker.

“They came to us and pro­vided on-site training for the entire staff in clas­sical teaching prac­tices,” she said. “They trained us on the whole cur­riculum, and they were there to answer ques­tions.”

During this school year, BCSI staff came twice for two to three days. They observed all of the teachers, and on the last day, they met with them and went over any ques­tions they had.

Kooiker said ICA differs from local public schools in that staff can tailor cur­riculum to the needs of stu­dents.

“Tra­di­tional public schools use the cur­riculum that is based off of the latest trend,” she said. “It’s man­dated by the state through the dis­trict. As a charter school, we are our own dis­trict. We make deci­sions based on our stu­dents’ needs.”

Northwest Ohio Clas­sical Academy

Northwest Ohio Clas­sical Academy began their first year as a K‑8th insti­tution. They have 208 stu­dents enrolled, according to Prin­cipal Phillip Schwenk. He said that before he came to the school, a couple of the original board members noticed a decided lack of clas­sical edu­cation in the greater Toledo area. They wanted to open a new charter, based partly on a BCSI school in Savannah, Georgia.

Schwenk said the Hillsdale name carries a lot of weight in Toledo, since it’s only about an hour from the college campus. 

He also said the program guide BCSI offers its affil­iated schools is a major benefit to joining the ini­tiative. 

“As someone in edu­cation for 25 years, I’ve never seen any­thing like it,” he said. “You get to watch kids engross them­selves in that.”

When it comes to the method of clas­sical edu­cation BCSI pro­motes, Schwenk said he appre­ciates “having a cur­riculum that really rel­ishes in learning for the sake of learning,” par­tic­u­larly from the great books and lit­er­ature. Everyone at NOCA, he said, are seeking to become not only learned but also vir­tuous.

Schwenk also empha­sizes the com­munity aspect that NOCA offers Toledo — the fact that stu­dents come from a variety of back­grounds and demo­graphics.

“We have stu­dents coming from local public schools and local private schools, and there’s a sig­nif­icant home­schooling pop­u­lation here. They are all very dif­ferent, and there’s obvi­ously diversity in all those com­mu­nities,” he said. “We’re coming around a common goal of the true and beau­tiful.”