Michigan Virtual Academy staff hold professional development in Manistee

More than 100 teachers and staff from the Great Lake Virtual Academy gathered in Manistee for the past two days for a series of professional development exercises.

More than 100 teachers and staff from the Great Lake Virtual Academy gathered in Manistee for the past two days for a series of professional development exercises.

MANISTEE — One of the best kept secrets in the world of education in this area is that the Great Lakes Virtual Academy is the largest school district in the county.

The online school, which has offices housed in the Briny Building and is chartered by the Manistee Area Public Schools, has more than 1,200 elementary (K-8th grade) and 1,065 middle/high school students. However, most people don’t realize it because being an online school all the teachers and students are never in the same building in Manistee County, but work out of their homes from locations all over the state.

For the past two days that hasn’t been true for more than 100 teachers, principals and staff who have been in Manistee working on professional development at the BlueFish Kitchen & Bar.

“We have 100 teachers, some of our support staff, our counselors, our Family Academic and Support Team (FAST) and we are just focusing on the school year and how we better instruction, get our processes in place and be ready for when kids start on Sept. 8,” said principal Abby Brown. “Our teachers live all over the state and the only place we don’t have teachers yet is the Upper Peninsula.”

She said teachers in attendance came from Cheboygan, Big Rapids, Muskegon and everywhere else in the Lower Peninsula.

“We try to get together for professional development every other month and sometimes it works out, but winter gets a little dicey,” she said. “Even if we can’t meet face-to-face we are always together online virtually in the blackboard room and everyone can go in to share and talk.”

Brown said she feels being online the teachers, administrators and staff keep in touch and communicate maybe more than if they were in the same building.

“If we were in the same building all the other distractions would make it hard to get from one place to another to talk so we actually talk and communicate more online,” she said.

Kendall Schroeder, Great Lakes Virtual Academy head of school said it has been an exciting two days, as for many of the teachers it was the first opportunity to see the central office in the Briny Building.

“For being only three years old we are doing well,” said Schroeder. “I think you are seeing more families looking at it as a viable option. And as we continue to prove ourselves that we are real school, I think you will see more people looking at it as a viable option.”

Schroeder said an option of this kind is something that may not have been available for the students in the past.

Over the past two days the teachers and staff have touched on the new teacher and administrator evaluation tool.

“We are working with the other Manistee area schools on the new 5D+ evaluation,” said Brown. “We have been at training with them and they have been wonderful. Our teachers received it well and like what they see coming down the line.”

Brown said they also heard from the FAST team and talked about that processes throughout the year. On Thursday morning the group heard from K-12’s Mary Gallagher who works in the Northern region. They also have heard from the Manistee Intermediate School District’s General Education Director Kay Salyer and  consultant Dency Lippert.

“Literacy is her (Gallagher’s) passion, so she is taking them through close reading the common core shifts and reading across the curriculum,” she said. “This afternoon we have our instructional coaches who are working with us on quality instruction and the best way to set up their lessons.”

Brown said they also have been taking time for the different department and grade levels to work together, as they don’t get to sit across the table from each other like this very often.

Schroeder said that whenever they get together, the staff and administrators have a good time. The group has ate together and we went down to the beach for a bonfire last night to get to know each other better.

“Our board of education was here and it was just great to be able to bring everyone to Manistee,” said Brown. “That is the goal for this year every time barring, the weather.”

That is the whole idea according to Schroeder.

“We are really focused on building relationships with our staff, so we as a team can build relationships with students,” said Schroeder.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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