Anointing it as a "paradigm shift," the Allentown School District unveiled an implementation plan to lure students back to the district who are receiving an education through various cyber school programs during Thursday night's education/committee-of-the-whole meeting.
"Frankly, we are not ahead of the game," said C. Russell Mayo, ASD superintendent.
Considering severe budget cuts and staff cuts for several consecutive years, it's not a surprise. And it raised the questions among some board members as to how the district would actually be able to implement a quality education to students online.
Attempting to answer those questions was Luke Shafinsky, assistant principal at William Allen High School.
"This past school year, 351 students chose cyber charter schools instead of ASD," he noted in prepared statements.
The district of course is still financially responsible for those students, and Shafinsky said that in the 2012-2013 school year alone the expenditures for those students topped $2.8 million.
The district's solution is to restructure the Allentown Virtual Academy into a separate cyber division that would offer students full-time and hybrid online learning opportunities.
In order to turn the rhetoric into reality, the district would enlist the services of an online educational service consultant called Bridges Virtual Education Services. The BVES is a parternship between the Bucks County Intermediate Unit and the Quakertown Community School District.
"The focus here is to help school districts implement their own sustainable and scalable virtual learning programs," said Chris Harrington, director of BVES. The goal would be BVES to provide ASD with "customized implementation support" for the next two years.
Utilizing the Apex Learning Digital Curriculum, Shafinsky said the district's implementation plan would commence in September and unfold in three phases. In each phase, the district would target at minimum 20 students to make the switch back to ASD over the next 12 months.
The district would enlist the services of Bridges and something called the "Apex Digital Curriculum." During their presentation, Harrington provided a demonstration to the directors.
After the presentation, Board President Robert Smith asked Harrington how would a teacher know the student wasn't cheating instead of learning.
Harrington said they were "profile based questions" that would make it difficult for a student to pull a fast one on an instructor. The online component would not cut out "teaching face-to-face" he noted, but rather the online education would augment it.
While no director voiced opposition to the concept, there were a myriad of probing questions about the costs and staffing, both of which Director Julie Ambrose thought were not very well documented in the otherwise in-depth presentation. She remained skeptical.
"I am concerned," said Ambrose after more than one hour of presenting and discussing the topic. "I don't think we have our heads wrapped around the magnitude of this."
Or the costs, or how the district's already depleted teaching staff would carry out this in the future.
"I don't want to approve this in a sloppy way," Mayo said of the district's cyber school initiative. Instead he wanted to be "methaodical."
Another director who was less than impressed with the specifics, or lack of them, was Ce Ce Gerlach. Both voted against moving the measure to the full board meeting later this month. They turned out to be the only two.
The program's estimated costs would involve an administrator, who would be paid $100,000, with professional services costing the district $50,000, with software licenses tagged at $40,000 and professional development costs checking in at $50,000, according to the exhibit before directors Thursday night.
The vision for the ASD Virtual Academy would be for the 2013-2014 school year to be used as a "planning year" with the expectation that cyber option courses would be available to William Allen and Louis E. Dieruff High School student for the 2014-2015 school year, or sooner.
The board agreed to move the measure out of committee to the regular board meeting later this month.
In other business, the board approved an administration initiative to have McKinley Elementary kindergarten students received their instruction at Lincoln Early Childhood Center for the 2013-2014 school year. A total of 60 students would be impacted, according to Tina Belardi, ASD chief academic officer. There would be no staffing changes, she added, should the board approve the measure during their regular meeting.