Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read October 2021 — As Palm Beach County’s education space adapts to a hybrid delivery method, combining in-school and online learning, new developments and practices are changing the face of the region’s educational landscape. Head of School at Oxbridge Academy Ralph Maurer spoke with Invest: and shared the broad strokes of these shifting trends.
What measures did Oxbridge Academy implement to manage this unprecedented period of time?
The two biggest strategies were investing in technology and investing in people. Like a lot of schools, we had to invest in virtualization of our main services to be delivered to the home and then to be delivered in a hybrid manner so we could de-densify the classroom. This allowed us to have days where half of the school was on campus, while the other half was at home. When we were fully in school, we had the capacity to cater to students who might not be able to come back to school because of some health condition or any other reason.
Investing in people has two aspects to it. One is the capability side to harness our technology investments. A significant element of professional development comes with that, not just in terms of learning to use technology but in terms of ensuring the delivery of a delightful experience for students. From a teaching standpoint, this is difficult to achieve. It takes a lot of work, practice and research. The other side of investing in people boils down to investing in their mental health. This year was difficult for everyone — students, parents, faculty and staff alike. We put a lot of time and energy into thinking about which practices could make our faculty and staff resilient during these times.
How is the education sector being transformed by technology?
A lot of what we and other schools implemented during this time has been done for a while, especially in higher education. The main difference is that distance learning and hybrid classrooms became ubiquitous almost overnight. The big question that has arisen relates to its permanence and whether such settings enable educational pathways and abilities that we want to have. It remains an open question. We are not outside of the situation that we were in. We are still in a situation where the technology is being used for the purpose for which we put it in place. Going forward, we now have some great tools and have been educated in terms of how to best use them as great tools for distance learning. Whether it is a transformative feature remains to be seen.
How is the education sector tackling the ongoing labor shortage?
We are trying to make ourselves the most attractive school we can from both a teaching and learning standpoint. Teachers want to teach and they want to teach in places that are interesting, that have interesting students and a healthy environment that is kind, engaging and fun. This takes on an added level of significance in this COVID-19-riddled environment. We also take care of our own by providing a safe place that is intellectually stimulating and rigorous, where they can develop their careers and hone their craft. We try to go to the market as early as we possibly can and always pay attention to good people in the market even if we aren’t hiring. If there is somebody who interned with us or had a long-term sub-position with us and who we loved, we try to keep track of them and maintain a good relationship with them because in a tight hiring market, it is going to make a big difference if we can call them up and get them to our school.
How did college counseling evolve throughout the pandemic?
We did phenomenally well with our college counseling, placement and matriculation through the pandemic. In large part because our college counseling services translate quite well to a virtual environment. Our college counselors meet regularly with students in a one-on-one setting. They encouraged our students to maintain a rigorous course load, to not back off of that and we supported them as much as we possibly could to keep up their college applications in terms of their hopes and dreams. Our admissions bore this out, with some of our best placements since the school’s founding. Interestingly, we only had one or two students who did a gap year, and they did it for very good reasons. They wanted to tackle some interesting projects. We did not see the kind of massive drop-off in college matriculation that other places saw.
How does the school balance top-level education with affordability?
We give out a lot of financial aid. Forty percent of our students are on financial aid, which is well above the region’s average. That does not just help us maintain affordability, it fosters diversity too, helping to craft a diverse student body in many ways along many different dimensions. It is critical for us to continue to do so because we want our students to be exposed to a lot of different kinds of people early in their educational careers.
What is your outlook for Oxbridge Academy and the education sector in Palm Beach County?
It is extremely positive. We just started middle school this year, in the middle of the pandemic. We started the seventh and eighth grade. We announced it in January 2021 and filled up all 56 spots extremely quickly. We’ve been growing and what we see in terms of economic development in the region is highly positive. The investment happening appears to be long-term and in sectors that are expanding globally.
For more information, visit: https://www.oapb.org/