District interested in educating inmates

Oxford Schools is looking into submitting a bid as part of a Michigan Department of Corrections pilot program, which could lead to the district providing virtual education to the state’s inmates.

The pilot program is meant to deliver a high school curriculum virtually to a total of 400 inmates spread across three prisons around the state.

Inmates, who would be age 18 and up, would be eligible to receive a high school diploma from Oxford Schools through the program if they met curriculum requirements.

The deadline for the district to submit a bid is March 23.

According to Director of International Operations Jill Lemond, who has been heading the research regarding this proposal, a committee of around 10 district representatives (including staff from the district’s technology, curriculum, alternative education departments, along with virtual administration staff) has been meeting regularly to ensure the program would meet the needs of the community and that it would not interfere with district goals.

“We are still in the process of gathering information before we formally bid and, of course, we are competing with other bidders for this project,” Lemond said.

Superintendent Tim Throne said if the district were to submit a bid and be selected by the state to participate in this program, the revenue received by Oxford would “have to outweigh any additional costs to the district” in order to pursue this.

Neither the revenue nor the costs have been determined yet, but Lemond noted the district would only accept a contract for this program if it would bring in a positive revenue stream.

“If we’re in the business of educating the community, does that stop at K-12? This came upon us and it’s a way for us to give to the community and possibly (earn) some revenue. We’ll really only consider it if there’s going to be some level of revenue that would immediately be brought back to the students that are in our district.”

Throne added he feels Oxford is “uniquely qualified” for the program because of its extensive experience with educating adjudicated youths on the Crossroads for Youth campus and providing an online classes through the Oxford Virtual Academy. The school at Crossroads currently educates about 50 students.

Oxford Schools has been involved with Crossroads for Youth (formerly known as Camp Oakland) since 1953, not including the 2013-14 school year when the school was run by a charter school, according to Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Ken Weaver.

As far as virtual instruction goes, the district officially opened its virtual academy in 2011, although Weaver noted the district had been “dabbling in” virtual instruction by supplying online courses to Oxford Bridges High School and at Crossroads in years prior.

“The more experience we get with all different types of students in all different types of settings, it helps us to become better teachers and enhance our craft. We want to apply all of the lessons we’ve learned across the board to help all of our people,” Throne said.

Lemond asserted that should the district bid on the program and be selected to participate, no Oxford teachers would be required to physically visit any of the prisons to educate the inmates.

“What’s important to note is that we are not, in any way, suggesting that we’re going to send our teaching staff to jail. All instruction would be (done) remotely, within a virtual setting,” she said. “Additionally, the integrity of an Oxford diploma will not be compromised. Any graduates of this program would have to meet the Michigan Merit Curriculum.”