Anna, Julia and Eva Bilkey are students enrolled in Lakers Online, which is offered through the West Bloomfield School District.

Anna, Julia and Eva Bilkey are students enrolled in Lakers Online, which is offered through the West Bloomfield School District.

Photo provided by Dan Durkin

First-ever Lakers Online principal takes the helm

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 1, 2020

 Fiona and Sam Haines help commemorate the first week of school for Lakers Online in August.

Fiona and Sam Haines help commemorate the first week of school for Lakers Online in August.

Photo provided by Dan Durkin


WEST BLOOMFIELD — Despite being in a position that didn’t even exist a year ago, Jennifer Bennett’s new job with the West Bloomfield School District is now among the most important in the district.

Bennett was named the inaugural principal for Lakers Online, the district’s 100% remote learning option for K-12 students.

Her new position was made official at a Board of Education meeting Aug. 10.

Lakers Online is an option that was made available to parents and students as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bennett’s previous experience includes work as a technology media specialist, a teacher in grades four-six, an instructional coach, an assistant principal and a principal in Monroe Public Schools, as well as a principal in Northville Public Schools and a literacy coach in the West Bloomfield School District.

“I’ve had this passion for blending best practices in education with the technology environment,” Bennett said. “That’s kind of been my background, so I’m excited to put that into play to this new school for West Bloomfield. … We want to replicate the rich classroom community that we’ve had in West Bloomfield in our brick and mortar buildings in an online setting.”

Superintendent Gerald Hill shared some thoughts about Bennett in a press release.

“We were fortunate to already have such a talented and well-rounded educational leader within our district in Ms. Bennett,” Hill stated. “She will bring her years of experience to this unique opportunity. … We have the utmost confidence in her abilities, and we wish her nothing but success in this new role.”

District teachers help shape the instruction for Lakers Online students, and Bennett discussed some of the specifics of her role.

“I’ve been able to provide guidance, resources and expectation to our instructional staff,” she said. “My role also, of course, is to be that communication piece for parents to our community. We’ve been able to host webinars and get information out through our newsletters. … And of course, building relationships with students.”

Waterford resident Chris Haines has two children enrolled in Lakers Online: Fiona, who is in sixth grade, and Sam, a ninth grade high school student.

“Lakers Online got off to a bumpy start, and I may have been tempted to throw in the towel if we had not created a parents support group on Facebook,” Haines wrote via email. “Our parents have provided much-needed support, answering questions, troubleshooting problems and providing a listening ear for those that just need a chance to vent. But Lakers Online gets better each week as we all (students/teachers/parents and caregivers) learn more about how to use the tools we have been given.”

Bennett said there are 1,449 Lakers Online students, with 687 at the elementary level, 442 enrolled for middle school and 320 in high school.

The school day for each of the K-12 students begins at 9 a.m., with end times varying based on grade levels.

Those who are in grades 9-12 are scheduled until 2 p.m., with younger students wrapping up about an hour later.

There are breaks in between for each of the grade levels.

“The basic outline of it is synchronous time, where teachers are able to provide instruction through Zoom, as well as a combination of asynchronous instruction, so that students have the time off the screen where they can practice those skills,” Bennett said. “We have assessments embedded throughout that time, as well, so we can check to make sure students are getting what they need and we can follow up with them and circle back, just like you would in a classroom. I think the best practices that you see in our classrooms in West Bloomfield look very similar in our online setting.”

Haines shared some thoughts about the Lakers Online schedule.

“Our middle school student, Fiona, loves the LOMS schedule,” he wrote. “She’s been able to complete most, if not all her homework during her breaks between classes. Our LOHS son, Sam, also likes his schedule, getting all his Zoom instruction done in the morning, and then using his afternoons and evenings to work on his homework. We are finding that this is just as much instruction, and school work, as they would have been given if they were in a traditional face-to-face school year.”

From Bennett’s perspective, the 9 a.m. start time suits some students well.

“What we’re finding, with especially our older students, is they like the later start,” she said. “There’s studies that prove that adolescents need more sleep. It contributes to their emotional and mental health. So, this kind of flexible and later start, we’re finding that students are really appreciating it.”

With COVID-19 being a modern-day reality, having an online option can help provide a level of comfort for both parents and students.

“A huge advantage for our school is that we’re meeting the basic needs of our families,” Bennett said. “They feel like they’re in a safe environment, and whatever their situation is, this is what they chose for their child, and that gives them that peace of mind. … I’m proud to say that we’re able to support those families that may be vulnerable to COVID-19. There’s also part of our population that appreciates the flexibility of the learning environment.”

Bennett is a graduate of Siena Heights University. She and her husband, Steve, have three children, Reganne, Brendon and Colin.

The position Bennett has agreed to take on is one that could be considered revolutionary.

“Unfortunately, a pandemic has created this, but it is exciting to be able to redefine what education can look like,” she said. “We see that as we’re creating videos for students to view during some asynchronous time. Students can re-watch those videos; they can pause them when they need to and jot something down. … I’ve felt that students should have ownership over their learning; that’s a big part of who I am as an educator. I think this provides the setting to do so: an online environment.”