Another new private school in Princeton is not usually headline news, but Fusion Academy, which opened at Forrestal Village in April, has a twist: one-to-one teaching for students from grades 6 to 12. While Fusion’s approach to individualized teaching might seem extreme by today’s standards, school head Christine Drucker believes it could be a model for many schools in the near future.
Drucker and others in her profession see a movement in education toward self-organized and exploratory learning where student differences in learning styles and needs determine how they are taught. Each subject a student takes is taught in a classroom where he is the only student working with one teacher.
In the interest of sharing the benefits of this approach with the public, the Fusion Academy will present an event titled “Revolutionizing Education!” on Thursday, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. at its new campus on Stanhope Street, Princeton Forrestal Village, which is the 18th school opened by Fusion Education Group. The event will consist of a screening of three education-related TED talks followed by a panel discussion featuring six education professionals from various Princeton-area organizations. To attend, call 609-919-9193.
The first Fusion School was opened in a converted garage outside of San Diego a little over 20 years ago by Michelle Rose Gilman. “I didn’t have a business model. I certainly didn’t have financial backing,” said Gilman in a video posted online. Gilman said she opened her school on a shoestring budget and gut instincts. The school’s success grew, and in 2008 came to the attention of Peter Ruppert, CEO of American Education Group (AEG), a school management company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Ruppert visited the school and was inspired. Before the year’s end, AEG and Fusion Academy had teamed up with a goal of making the Fusion approach available to students across the country. They opened a new campus in 2010 in Los Angeles, and over the next few years opened several more schools in California and New York. In 2013 Ruppert sold some of AEG’s assets to focus exclusively on Fusion. He changed AEG’s name to Fusion Education Group and he continues to serve as the organization’s president and CEO.
Today there are 18 opened campuses, including 12 in California, four in New York, and two in New Jersey (Morristown and Princeton), with plans for seven more schools to be opened in California, New York, and Texas between August of this year and the end of 2015.
Drucker says that one of the most rewarding aspects of working at the academy is the responses students and parents share with her. “They tell us that we have changed their lives,” she says. The teachers are key to the school’s success, and every teacher participates in a three-day session with Gilman, the school’s founder. They are accepted at the school based on their academic performance and their capacity for empathy and ability to serve the students as mentors.
Depending on how many courses he takes, the student can have several teachers but he is assigned one lead teacher who acts as a guide, mentor, and friend. Students have the opportunity to socialize and work with their peers in the Homework Cafe. The school offers flexible scheduling with classes available any time of day and any season of the year. According to admissions and outreach director Caitlin Fair, almost 100 percent of Fusion’s full-time students nation-wide graduate and most go on to college. In addition to Fair, Drucker’s administrative team includes Tamare Merentie and Stefanie Hathaway.
Currently, the school offers four tuition categories: The per-semester price for one course in the standard middle school group is $3,900; and for the standard high school group, $3,350. The per-semester price for one course in the extended high school group is $3,900; and for the honors high school group, $3,840. Students can take classes on a full or part-time basis.
While courses are pricey, the academy points out that the tuition load can be reduced because Fusion’s one-to-one classes progress more quickly than conventional classes. Therefore students can take fewer classes at a time, such as four instead of the traditional six to eight.
Drucker comes to Fusion with 17 years of experience in education working on the individualized approach to teaching. Previously, Drucker was a New York City public high school teacher for four years and then became an assistant principal of technology for a high school in Staten Island, New York. As a school leader, she developed and supervised a “Smaller Learning Community” within the large high school to give students personalized experiences in school. Her commitment to create individual educational experiences for students was heightened by the birth of her daughter, a child with special needs.
Drucker finds that many public schools have a difficult time educating children with special needs and helping them reach their potential. “It opened my eyes,” Drucker said. She and her husband moved from New York to Franklin Park, where her daughter attends a public school that does a good job of meeting her needs, she said.
Becoming an educator was an easy choice for Drucker. While growing up on Staten Island, her father was an executive for Prudential Securities, and her mother worked at a civil service job. In college, her goal was to become an accounting teacher.
Drucker has a degree in business education from Pace University and a masters in instructional technology from New York Institute of Technology. She did post-masters work on educational reform at the College of Staten Island.
What Drucker likes about working at Fusion Academy is the opportunity to integrate her experience, academic background, and desire for all types of students to be educated and blossom. “Fusion allows students to be individuals,” Drucker says.
Fusion, 116 Stanhope Street, Princeton Forrestal Village, Princeton 08540; 609-919-9193; www.fusionprinceton.com.