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Brandon Academy of Arts & Sciences opens this fall



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August 14, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- One size does not fit all.

With this in mind and an eye on expanding education options in the district, the Brandon School Board unanimously approved at a special Aug. 12 meeting a new Brandon Academy of Arts and Sciences for the 2013-14 school year.

"This is not a charter school, it is a school within a school," emphasized Superintendent Lorrie McMahon.

The Brandon Academy will be housed in the H.T. Burt building, will feature small class sizes with mixed grade levels from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, and will have three teachers and a program director that will be on the Brandon School District payroll.

The new academy employees all come from the Good Shepherd Lutheran School in Lake Orion and are expected to bring with them about 30 students and their parents.

"The church wanted to go in a different direction for the school and the principal, the three teachers and the parents of about 30 students did not want to go in the same direction," said McMahon.

Marilyn Campbell, the former Good Shepherd principal and music teacher, approached McMahon July 23 looking for a new home for the students and teachers.

"We're excited about coming in and about the facility you have," said Campbell on Monday. "There are people whose children need this, our classes are small. It's another opportunity to get students into your district."

Campbell, the former Good Shepherd teachers, and parents and students from the private school, who come from various communities including Oxford, Clarkston, Lake Orion and Brandon Township, have already met with McMahon and seen rooms they will use at H.T. Burt.

The H.T. Burt building formerly housed preschool in the district as well as the alternative high school. This summer, the building was closed as part of a reconfiguration of district facilities in order to save money. McMahon said the majority of the Burt building will remain closed, with the new Brandon Academy utilizing six classrooms closest to the Harvey Swanson building (which is connected).

The Brandon Academy was approved as a 1-year pilot program and is to be completely self-funded. McMahon and Campbell expect at least 30 students to enroll, which is necessary for the program to break even. With $7,000 per-pupil funding, 30 new students in the district equates to $210,000. Any per-pupil funding dollars taken in not needed to support the new academy will be directed to the general fund, benefitting students throughout the district. If the academy failed to get the minimum number of students enrolled to break even, McMahon said the dis-trict would have to consider how to reduce program costs.

The Brandon Education Association agreed to the district hiring the program director and three teachers at step 1 pay levels, the entry level salary for teachers in the district.

Campbell brings with her 40 years of experience in education. All of the new teachers are certified and "highly qualified," said McMahon.

Students in the academy will have the same curriculum as students throughout the district. McMahon compares the new Brandon Academy to the district's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Academy.

The difference between the new Brandon Academy and other existing classrooms in the district is the instructional delivery method, she continued.

Classes will likely be half the size of others in the district, with multiple grades in a classroom, possibly with kindergarteners learning alongside first and second graders, and third and fourth graders together, etc.

"The students we have thrive in this environment," said Campbell. "The teachers want to keep teaching these students…When a parent can get their child in a classroom of 16, they're very happy."

Brandon Academy students will have art and music and access to physical education, as well as all extra-curricular activities in the district.

There is room in the program to accept up to 80 students, McMahon said. Students apply for the program on a first-come, first-served basis. If the maximum number is reached, a lottery system or waiting list will be implemented. Registration will determine the configuration of the classrooms.

McMahon stressed the importance of choice in education and how the district is attempting to offer as many options as possible with the STEM Academy, the new Brandon Virtual School, and the new Brandon Academy of Arts and Sciences.

"We are trying hard to find options so families can find what fits for them," she said. "Parents need to know, it's a different delivery system and they need to consider that. The main thing is that good teachers make the biggest difference. We have good teachers in existing schools and good teachers in this academy."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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