Partner spotlight: Seton Education Partners and understanding blended learning

(Left to right): The Archdiocese of Cincinnati Interim Superintendent Susan Gibbons, Accelerate Great Schools CEO Patrick Herrel and Emily Gilbride, Cincinnati Manager for Seton's Blended Learning Initiative, pictured with St. Joseph Catholic School students

(Left to right): The Archdiocese of Cincinnati Interim Superintendent Susan Gibbons, Accelerate Great Schools CEO Patrick Herrel and Emily Gilbride, Cincinnati Manager for Seton's Blended Learning Initiative, pictured with St. Joseph Catholic School students

Accelerate Great Schools recently announced its first investments in Cincinnati – one of which is to invest up to $1.3 million to transform St. Cecilia and St. Francis de Sales schools into blended learning academies through a strategic partnership with Seton Education Partners.

After the announcement, people requested more information about blended learning and the great results Seton has already achieved with St. Joseph Catholic School in the West End. 

So, we asked Emily Gilbride, the Cincinnati Manager for Seton’s blended learning initiative at St. Joseph, St. Cecilia and St. Francis de Sales, a few of the most frequently asked questions about blended learning and her perspective on how it is helping students succeed in Cincinnati.

1)    What do you find to be unique about Cincinnati’s education landscape?

I have lived in Cincinnati for over six years and am constantly amazed at the potential of students in our great city. Every student has the desire to achieve success in their education, but some lack the resources needed to help them reach their full potential. That’s why this partnership between Accelerate Great Schools and Seton Education Partners is so important – we’re working together with the Archdiocese to build upon the already great educational foundation these students are receiving. This collaboration will benefit the students now and into the future.

2)    What is the Seton Blended Learning Network?

The Seton Blended Learning Network is a network of eight urban Catholic schools driven by results, smart collaboration, and character formation. Seton currently serves over 2,200 students, 98 percent of whom are minorities and over two-thirds of whom qualify for the federal meals program. Seton provides partner schools with the know-how, training, and fundraising required to convert traditional classrooms to blended learning. The goal is to substantially improve the academic performance and reduce the operating costs of financially struggling urban Catholic schools. And it is working. 

3)    What is blended learning?

 Blended learning combines a traditional, bricks-and-mortar educational experience with online learning. Blended learning is not just about increasing access to computers and tablets; blended learning involves leveraging technology in a strategic way to provide students a more personalized learning experience. This includes small group instruction where and when each student learns best, as well as at the pace at which they advance. For instance, if a child is performing below standards, they can receive remediation, but if they are ahead, they can receive acceleration. This video of Seton’s first blended learning school showcases the rotational blended learning model.

4)    Tell us more about Seton Education Partners. How much does it charge for its services

Seton and Accelerate Great Schools share the belief that all kids deserve a great education. Seton is a nonprofit 501c3 organization founded to preserve disappearing urban Catholic Schools, many of which serve low-income students. We revitalize our partner schools, implement a more sustainable model and equip them with the tools to succeed. Thanks to the generosity of donors, Seton does not charge archdiocesan offices or individual Catholic schools to bring them into the Seton Blended Learning Network.        

5)    What does Seton’s blended learning model look like?

Seton works with each partner school to customize a learning model that meets the needs of each school’s staff and student population. This autonomy at the school level empowers principals and teachers to personalize their approach to meet the needs of their individual school population. Most often, Seton implements a classroom rotation model that uses a mixture of flexible software and data-driven, small-group instruction. The software, procedures, training, and “culture” of the model differ by grade level (i.e. K-2, 3-5, 6-8). We’re excited to be working with St. Cecilia and St. Francis de Sales’ school leadership to identify the model that best meets the needs of their students.

6)    How will Accelerate Great Schools’ investment help St. Cecilia and St. Francis de Sales?

Accelerate Great Schools’ $1.3 million investment in St. Cecilia and St. Francis de Sales will assist the schools with introducing the blended learning model, making necessary infrastructure updates (while remaining at their same locations) to allow more technology in the classroom and increasing student enrollment. Currently, St. Cecilia serves 231 students, and St. Frances de Sales serves 222 students. We project enrollment at each school will grow to 280 students each in three years.

7)    Does this program have an impact on enrollment?

Yes! Many parents are excited when their schools partner with Seton because they’re able to leverage the combination of personalized learning and small-group instruction, and they’ve seen the academic results. They choose to enroll their children in Seton-partnered schools, which drives enrollment. Figures differ by location, but Seton schools have collectively increased enrollment by 30 percent from pre-Seton totals. I can say firsthand that after Accelerate Great Schools announced its investment in the transformation of St. Cecilia and St. Francis de Sales, we received phone calls from enthusiastic parents who wanted to enroll their children at both schools and at St. Joseph.

8)    How does Seton’s blended learning model impact school culture?

Blended learning is not a silver bullet but rather a flexible and effective tool that can be used by a great leader and reflective teachers to achieve a strong school culture and high performing academic results. Blended learning increases student/teacher interaction, enables targeted small group instruction, and provides an opportunity to celebrate good character. As a result, Seton works with each school’s leadership team to inject best practices from high performing, “no excuses” urban schools across the nation in order to help build a culture in which students develop the knowledge, skills, and character necessary to earn a college degree and pursue lives of value, faith, and integrity.

9)    How has Seton been successful with St. Joseph?

During the 2014-15 school year, St. Joseph students outpaced the national average for math by 30 percent and reading by 24 percent. 80 percent of St. Joseph’s students made one or more years of progress in math while 74 percent made one or more years of progress in reading on the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) test.

Personally, I have watched the students grow and thrive which is incredibly rewarding and motivating. Nothing matters more than watching students succeed and discover that they can be excited about learning.

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Emily Gilbride is the Cincinnati Manager for Seton's Blended Learning Initiative at St. Joseph Catholic School, St. Cecilia and St. Francis de Sales. She has lived in Cincinnati for over six years and is dedicated to improving educational opportunities for children in the region and throughout the country. Prior to joining Seton, Emily was a Teach for America corps member in Southwest Ohio, where she taught middle school math and served as a content leader for fellow secondary math educators. While teaching, she successfully led the campaign for a Cincinnati School Board member and worked as a School Operations Manager for Teach for America’s Atlanta Institute. Emily earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy, politics, and public and political science, with honors, from Xavier University.