Now in its fourth year of operation, Hilliard City Schools' former administrative offices at 5323 Cemetery Road were remodeled and opened as the McVey Innovative Learning Center in August 2013.

The sights and sounds inside the McVey Innovative Learning Center are a little different than the other 23 buildings in Hilliard City Schools.

In one room, a student might be using a state-of-the-art mixing board as others play electric guitars in a soundproof recording studio; in another area, students are learning in a room that resembles a set for filming a TV medical drama.

Now in its fourth year of operation, the district's former administrative offices at 5323 Cemetery Road were remodeled and opened as the MILC in August 2013.

"It has been a success, to say the least," said Brent Wise, the director of innovation and learning for Hilliard since 2012.

In the district's continuing effort to personalize learning for each student, Wise said, he believes the MILC has achieved the success leaders envisioned for an educational setting outside the traditional structure and curriculum of high schools that prepare students for a vocation or higher education.

Wise, along with Assistant Superintendent Mike McDonough, former administrator Steve Estepp and former superintendent Dale McVey, were instrumental in making the center, which was named in honor of McVey, a reality.

School board President Andy Teater, who was a board member when the MILC opened, said he is thrilled with the center's success.

"We remain excited that we have something different for our students," said Teater, adding that the board's decision to name the center in honor of McVey was appropriate because McVey "pushed innovation and change" during his 15-year tenure.

Superintendent John Marschhausen said the MILC is not only a benefit for students, but a standard for other districts to achieve.

"(The MILC) is a world-class learning environment (and) a national model for blended and innovative learning," he said.

Hilliard administrators plan to open a second campus of the MILC in fall 2018 at the current Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School, 3859 Main St. It will be part of the building shuffle when a new Memorial Middle School opens in fall 2018 on Walker Road and the current Memorial school at 5600 Scioto Darby Road will be rebranded as the new Station.

District spokeswoman Stacie Raterman said officials were unsure whether any additional staffing would be required. When asked about the operating costs of the MILC, she said the district does not gauge the operating costs of individual buildings.

Attention earned

Meanwhile, the current campus is earning attention.

Wise said he regularly showcases the school to entourages from other districts.

"We give a tour once a week, on average," Wise said.

Visitors have come from Cincinnati and Mentor, and from as far as Aurora, Colorado, he said.

"Some other districts (in central Ohio) offer bits and pieces of what we do here, but we have put it all in one place, under one roof," Wise said.

About 1,000 of the students at the district's three high schools and three middle schools pass through the MILC at one time or another each week, Wise said.

The MILC has 7,584 students from the district's three middle schools and high schools, according to a March enrollment report.

The center has 28 teachers, three of whom also are instructors at the Tolles Technical & Career Center. Some of the teachers also teach at other buildings in the district, Raterman said.

Courses offered

Courses at the MILC have varied since its opening.

Some courses have been dropped and others added, but several have endured and continue to gain popularity, including Academy Vibe, a class that explores music performance and engineering; Academy EDU, for students interested in teaching; Health Professionals Academy, for students pursuing a career in a medical field, and College JumpStart, a partnership with Columbus State Community College to offer college-level classes.

For some students, the MILC offers an opportunity to discover a passion or a vocation, but for others it is a means to achieve an identified dream.

Darby High School senior Emily Wolf, 18, is enrolled in Academy EDU and falls into the latter category.

"I have always wanted to be a teacher," she said.

Wolf had the opportunity through Academy EDU to visit and teach in a classroom.

"I felt so in my element. ... I loved every second of it," said Wolf, who first taught last year at Hilliard Crossing Elementary School.

Wolf is working this year at Scioto Darby Elementary School and plans to major in early childhood education at the University of Cincinnati.

Cathy Gongwer, an Academy EDU instructor, said the program provides invaluable insight to students.

"We want them to have the experience of teaching and to know it's a career they want," Gongwer said.

Sometimes it isn't, and that is OK, Gongwer said. Academy EDU, like others at the MILC, provides the chance for students to discover themselves.

"(Our programs) help kids know what they want to do, but sometimes what they don't want to do, and that's a good thing, too," Gongwer said.

Academy Vibe launched a specialty class this year, Performer's Institute.

Its "house band" is the six-member Threat Level Midnight -- a name derived from an episode of "The Office."

"Short of me being Jack Black, this is a real-life 'School of Rock,' " said Phil Nagy, a music instructor at Academy Vibe.

Students have access to the latest technology and learn other aspects of the music business, Nagy said.

Threat Level Midnight is working on a collection of original material, perhaps 10 tracks, he said, and they will be available for purchase on a variety of digital platforms.

Band members are learning, apart from composing and rehearsing, the other work involved in being musicians. Members include Bradley junior Aaron Sartain, Davidson sophomore Mark Fullen, Bradley junior Bryan Ream, Darby junior Anna Wallace, Davidson senior Sarita Gara and Bradley junior Megan Woodruff.

"They're editing photos for the artwork, mixing songs and making cold calls to get booked at venues," Nagy said.

Gara, 18, said Academy Vibe is her favorite class.

"I don't even consider it school," Gara said. "I get to come here every day and share my passion with other students who understand the same thing."

The band members have become friends, which illustrates another benefit of the MILC: providing an environment that helps students achieve at the highest possible level.

"Some students excel in smaller environments," Wise said.

He said the MILC can appeal to students who find it difficult to transition from middle school to high school.

"Students here feel known and cared for," he said.

Through College JumpStart, the MILC provides a window into the collegiate experience, and its enrollment continues to increase, Wise said.

The program provides the opportunity for students to earn college credit while in high school. It differs from the state's College Credit Plus program because JumpStart is offered only at the MILC; College Credit Plus entails students taking college courses at other locations.

"It was an awesome opportunity for me," said Hannah Graber, a Bradley graduate and a freshman at Ohio University. "Rather than just taking AP courses, JumpStart really helped me make the transition to a college setting."