Oklahoma's first rural charter school is in session on Lake Eufaula. It's Carlton Landing Academy's fifth year to be open, but its first as an Oklahoma charter school.
The first thing most notice driving up to Carlton Landing Academy are the white picket fences and the picturesque traditional schoolhouses.
“They're based on, inspired by, the old one-room territory schoolhouses,” school board chair Jen Humphreys said.
But what’s happening inside the classroom is what’s important.
“All the key ingredients for success are in place here,” parent Aaron Tracy said.
Tracy's family moved to Carlton Landing from midtown Tulsa this year. He said the sole reason was to send his daughter to Carlton Landing Academy.
“You've got an amazing support system. The faculty are all extremely talented. The parents are all committed to what's going on here, and there's an entire community behind it,” he said. “It's tuition-free and has small class sizes, which is really important. I think it allows a lot of time for individualized attention for the kiddos and tailoring things for their need.”
Charters are public schools but don't have district boundaries. They also don't have to follow all of the state's guidelines, which school leaders said allows for more innovative and flexible teaching.
“We're teaching Oklahoma's kids,” Head of School Jon Parker said. “If we can offer them better environments, which we've got here; if we can offer a better program, a better curriculum, then why not?”
The school vowed to never have more than 20 students per class to allow teachers more time to assist in a peer-based learning process.
“I'd like to say a more effective way of learning,” Parker said.
The academy has blended classroom of various aged students. For instance, seventh through 12th grade students are in the same classroom - Parker says it allows students to coach one another.
“They give them a different perspective, they mentor for them, they help teach,” Parker said. “Once you start teaching something, the level of understanding, the higher critical thinking skills, they just start exploding.”
Parker said teachers manage the curriculum for multiple grades through technology, courseware and direct teaching. The concept of blended classrooms is, well, old school.
“This is something that happened back in America in our early days, and why not get back to what worked early on,” Parker said.
The academy is also nature-centric. One example is the edible schoolyard where students actually get to plant and grow fruits and vegetables.
“I've got this environment that is accessible with science, with history, with archeology...we've got fossils on the lake shore,” said Parker.
“We have plans to construct nature trails just south of the academy, so the kids will be on the trails in the learning environment. They're doing science in nature,” Humphreys said.
This year, 51 students are enrolled in the academy. Some drive in from bigger cities, like McAlester, but the majority comes from smaller communities.
“We've got a chance here to do something different, and we're excited,” Parker said. “We'll be a model for the rest of the state.”
Parents like Tracy agree, “I believe it's history in the making, and we're excited to be a part of it. It's going to grow, it's going to flourish and I hope I talk to you in a few years about what a big success story it's been.”
Carlton Landing Academy is expecting to grow to 300 within five years, but the goal remains the same - to provide a personalized learning experience.
“We want to grow as needed, but we don't want to grow too quickly,” Humphreys said. “We're enjoying our small class sizes. We're committed to keeping the class sizes small.”
Humphreys said because the academy is exempt from some state school guidelines, teachers pay is more than public schools to attract and keep teachers.
“The lean model that we have here at Carlton Landing Academy allows us to put more emphasis on the things that we feel are important, and paying our teachers to attract the best teachers possible is important to us,” Humphreys said.