District eyes opening enrollment to Internet-based learning

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By Beth Braden

It’s public school without the cafeteria food, smoking in the boy’s room and dressing out for physical education.
Virtual school could soon be up for a vote within the Campbell County School District.
“School districts are taking advantage of it and they will continue to take advantage of it,” said Karen Ghidotti, vice president of the southern region of K12, Inc.
K12, Inc., is an online learning company that contracts with a multitude of public and private schools around the world. They are equipped to educate students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
K12 curriculum was developed by more than 200 professionals, according to Ghidotti. Classes offered include 26 advanced placement classes and 13 foreign language classes.
If the Campbell County Schools choose to contract with K12, interested students would be allowed to enroll for free. K12 functions as a brick and mortar school, which just means students aren’t in school — they are instead attending Internet-based classes instructed by certified teachers.
The teachers who work for K12 are certified in the state they work in and meet state and federal requirements.
Students who enroll still provide the typical paperwork required by brick and mortar schools — immunization records, a birth certificate and proof of residence. For students who would qualify for free and reduced lunch at school, K12 will ensure they have the proper computer equipment at home and has the ability to subsidize the internet connection.
Each day, students of the virtual school would log on and be able to see all their tasks for the day. Some of the day’s lessons might be at the student’s own pace — other lessons will be delivered by the teacher via video messaging.
Board members were intrigued.
“[What happens] if you have a student that is failing,” asked Homer Rutherford.
“You have a very different academic plan for them,” Ghidotti answered.   
The student would have the ability to interact one-on-one with the class instructor, and K12 has a whole suite of credit recovery courses that go beyond the regular curriculum for students who fall behind.
“Do you think that a virtual school classroom of 25 is better than a brick and mortar school of 18?” wondered Rector Miller.
“This is not the right educational opportunity for every student, but it certainly meets the needs of a large number of students,” she answered.
Students who enroll in virtual school are usually members of two categories — the low performing or the high performing, Ghidotti said. The low-performing students are assessed and given the tools to rise to their grade level. The high-performing students have the ability to go above and beyond required coursework to enrich their learning experience.
Students who wish to transition back to a Campbell County school, private school, or homeschool, are treated the same way as a standard transfer — he or she withdraws from the virtual school and their records are sent to the school he or she will attend.
Board member Eugene Lawson was skeptical after hearing about problems with the program elsewhere.  
In 2011, Union County schools began its first year of the contract with K12. There were some hiccups during the first several weeks of school due to higher-than-expected enrollment and problems sorting out paperwork. Lawson was curious about test scores and results. Ghidotti acknowledged the first year’s test scores weren’t where they needed to be.
“If you can’t do a better job than we are, we don’t need you,” Lawson told her.
If the district chooses to contract with K12, there will be fees assessed to the district for managing the school, the technology, the necessary materials and leasing computers. Those fees should be paid for by the state.
Each year, the state provides a set amount of money per student enrolled within the district. The district would still get that money, but would instead use it to help pay for the virtual school.
The board of education will meet again at 6 p.m., June 11 in the Campbell County Courthouse.