Dan Mahlandt

Valor Preparatory Academy Principal Dan Mahlandt has implemented late start to benefit children’s ability to learn and thrive in and out of the classroom.

Valor Preparatory Academy Principal Dan Mahlandt believes the “Factory Model of Education” has become outdated. 

With more than 30 years of experience as an educator, Mahlandt hopes to see a change in the education system. 

For example, Mahlandt said science shows that adolescents perform much better with late starts, yet, early starts in most schools around the country is the standard. Mahlandt vowed to change this as a school leader and has since implemented late starts at the Goodyear school, a tuition-free institution for students in grades 6 to 11.

“That traditional form is what drives education today,” Mahlandt said. 

“The problem is somewhere along the way, the need to be able to move with bells telling us to go from one place to the next and everybody working in factories stopped being the most important element in keeping us being the leader in the world. And what’s made us a leader is things like communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creative problem solving. That’s kind of what’s driving us into the new reality that we have.” 

The late start is just one example of the many changes Mahlandt has implemented at Valor. He thinks all schools should follow suit. The current model did well for the labor-intensive industrial revolution of the 19th century, but it limits the level of potential for students in the high-tech 21st century.

“Valor is the new form of education,” Mahlandt said. “If we empower students and parents to make decisions for themselves on the education they want, and we don’t make time that constant, instead we make it a variable, then we can change education and make sure that what the kids need is what drives us and not what the system needs.” 

Having taught in what he refers to as the “traditional model,” Mahlandt said he has seen how these changes can benefit students, especially those who participate in time-consuming extracurricular activities. 

“There’s a wide breadth of kids we serve who are successful with us,” Mahlandt said. “The ones who aren’t successful yet are the ones who just want to be told what to do because they’re trained in that factory model from 5 years old until whatever age they come to us. And we try not to be the people that say do this at this second and do that at this minute, we’re trying to empower them. It’s time to make decisions for yourself.”  

Mahlandt’s school opened about two years ago, and infuses a nationally standardized, virtual curriculum offered in a hybrid approach.

“We have some students who ran into some significant anxiety issues and with the pandemic, that is another brand of student we got who they got held out of school for a year,” he said. “We got a decent number of those students who said I need something small. I need something personal. I need it to be based on what I need. And those people have found a great deal of success with us as well.”

Hybrid learning techniques, like those used at Valor, let robust online lessons provide the foundation of knowledge while allowing teachers the time to guide students through application, collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills, Mahlandt said. 

Looking at other Arizona districts, Mahlandt commends the success of their students, but said he believes they could benefit from making changes and straying from traditional education norms. 

“It doesn’t have to be a binary opposition,” Mahlandt said. “It’s not black and white where you’re either a hybrid school or a traditional district. When I see traditional districts, they do amazing things but being able to make that switch would be great. I wish that more people would just embrace it because I’ve really enjoyed it and I love seeing the kids have that moment when they realized I’m not being told what to do, I’m in charge, I can do this, this is me and I am leading the way.”

If schools continue to use the “factory model,” Mahlandt said he fears students will fall behind and be poorly prepared for life.

“We have to build adaptable, responsive, resilient, persistent learners at this point, and that’s the education we’re focusing on,” Mahlandt said. “But if we keep focusing on study this, regurgitate this at this level, it’s not going to get the job done and we will slip behind as a country.”

Mahlandt admitted this new way to educate is not widely used throughout the country, as many school districts continue to use the traditional model. However, with hopes of the new model growing in popularity and producing success, Mahlandt would like to see more schools implement it. 

“I believe we can showcase this model and show what it can do for our parents and kids,” he said. “The goal for me is to share the process to other schools and show that you need a robust online curriculum with teacher resources. You’ve got to have that done. I want to offer that model to people to be able to do that and have them come visit if they want and come see how I can do this for them. I just want education to be more about the function than the form.”