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Board approves virtual school proposal

5/7/2013

Alternative center program could help retain students.

Alternative center program could help retain students.

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

USD 457 Board of Education members Monday night approved a virtual school be put into place at the Alternative Education Center.

The center is in the J.D. Adams Building, 1312 N. Seventh St.

The measure passed 5-0. Board members Alex Wallace and Gloria Hopkins were absent.

AEC Principal Mark Ronn presented information to the board during a regularly-scheduled meeting Monday in favor of the virtual option for students. He said he recognized the need for the virtual school as more students are turning to online and electronic alternatives to complete their education.

An electronic curriculum, the Bison program, already is in place, but students come on site to complete their work. The virtual program would allow students to work from anywhere, Ronn said.

"This will give them the full virtual experience. They can enroll, register, get their classes set and do schoolwork from anywhere," he said.

In addition to students being able to finish school in a way that may be more convenient, the school also benefits the district.

More students means more state funding, and Ronn said the virtual program will help keep students in the district.

Ronn said 73 students have left the district in the past three years for virtual programs outside the district, which has resulted in a $292,000 loss of funding to the district.

Ronn said those students often are not successful and return to the AEC more behind than before.

He said the virtual school can be implemented at minimum expense to the district.

"We already have the technology and support already in place," he said.

Board members asked if the AEC would open the school up to students outside the district.

"We're concentrating on our own kids here. If you have a quality program in place, that would be no problem at some point," Ronn said.

Jean Clifford, BOE president, likes the flexibility the virtual school would provide.

"I see it as an advantage for students who want to home school, but want to have the choice to use the school for electives," she said.

"I think this will capture a lot of students who are looking for other options. This would not only be for reimbursement, but also to serve our whole community," Clifford added.

Lara Bors, board member, asked if long-term suspended students would be able to use the facilities.

Ronn said he had discussed that possibility with USD 457 Superintendent Rick Atha, and they determined those students would be able to use the facility.

During the meeting, the board also unanimously voted to renew the district's contract with Russell Child Development Center, and also discussed the board's five-year strategic plan, with emphasis on the first initiative — student achievement.

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