Carpe Diem means “seize the day” and Mark Forner, WMU alumni and principal of Carpe Diem Meridian Campus in Indianapolis certainly has seized his day. With a history as a business owner, classroom teacher and passionate supporter of school reform, Dr. Forner has taken the lead in a new concept school. Carpe Diem has brought higher test scores and graduation rates to the students who populate the “blended learning” concept urban educational facility. Blended learning combines two approaches, the traditional teacher-led classroom and the online school model in which students work independently on digital courses. Carpe Diem Meridian combines high quality classroom instruction with challenging digital courses in a highly personalized way. Students are not divided into age-level grades; instead, they are allowed to work to their ability level, and may climb through the levels much faster than if they were to spend a full year in each grade.
The first Carpe Diem school was established by Rick Ogston in Yuma, AZ about eight years ago. He developed the concept and Carpe Diem Yuma has had outstanding test scores and graduation rates well above the state average for Arizona. Once he had the model school up and running successfully, he expanded into Indianapolis in 2012 and now into Ohio. The Meridian Campus in Indianapolis had middle school passage rates on state standardized testing of over 85% in English and Language Arts and 88% in Math, well above the state average. Mark Forner has been instrumental in making this vision happen and he credits the education he received at Western Michigan University for helping him.
After received a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Kalamazoo College and an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, Mark was a small-town business owner who ended up, almost by default, on the school board. As he became more interested in school reform, he realized he needed to expand his skills in the area of educational leadership, with the goal of becoming a rural school principal. He turned to Western’s Educational Leadership, Research and Technology program to pursue an Ed. Specialist degree, but later was able to enter the Ph.D. program in Educational Leadership. He began his program in 2007 and graduated in December 2010.
When Mark Forner started his program at WMU, he felt out of place as a “very non-traditional” student. His only experience in the education field was his stint as a school board member in a small rural school district. Fortunately he connected with Dr. Louann Bierlein-Palmer and Dr. Patricia Reeves, whom he characterizes as “purveyors of hope…at a time when others expressed skepticism. Great universities are all about life-long and life-altering relationships. I count my friendships with Pat and Louann as one of the great blessings of my life ” With the help of these professors and the resources available at WMU, Mark was able to pursue his research interests in the components of successful school reform, particularly as it pertained to rural school districts. He studied the leadership practices of six highly successful rural school superintendents in Michigan for his dissertation.
While on the way to completion, Dr. Forner often felt he was doing his career “completely backwards,” as he started out as a school board member who aspired to be a superintendent. Once he encountered the bright, forward-thinking teachers and school leaders in WMU’s College of Education, it became clear to him that he would need to spend some time in the classroom in order to become a great school leader. He applied to Teach for America and taught middle-school mathematics in Indianapolis Public Schools for three years. When asked what skills he took from his educational experience at Western into his career as a school principal, he answered, “That’s easy …humility. My first year at WMU I was a fish out of water and I had to get ‘comfortable with being uncomfortable’. Similarly, I watched superintendents of large, successful school districts really struggle with the rigor of certain courses. That’s what impressed me most about my graduate experience at WMU: the level of academic rigor was high and my most successful classmates were generally individuals of great humility.”
The Graduate College at Western Michigan University is proud to acknowledge Dr. Mark Forner as one of our graduates. His path has been long and winding, culminating in the leadership of a new type of learning environment, the blended-learning academy. Though small, with fewer than 200 students currently enrolled, Carpe Diem Meridian is well on its way to proving Dr. Forner right in his belief that school reform can create a new type of learning environment that serves today’s students better than the traditional models.