Source: Sherman Publications

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District reports 283 enroll for online classes

by Andrew Moser

September 21, 2011

For Oxford Community Schools, online learning is the big new thing.

According to an email response to questions asked by the Leader about the Oxford Virtual Academy (OVA) from Linda Lewis, the Executive Assistant for Curriculum and District Communications, registration for OVA exploded over the summer.

She indicated 283 students 47 students inside the district and 236 outside the district registered for at least one OVA class.

In addition, approximately 70 students are taking online courses geared towards credit recovery (courses designed to make up for classes previously failed during the school year).

In the email, Lewis provided a quote from OVA principal Marty Johnson, who said the number of students enrolled in OVA greatly exceeded his expectations.

"I thought a realistic number for a start-up program might be 60," Johnson said. "So it's really kind of mind-boggling to think about what we've accomplished in just a few short months. I think we've found a niche market and have put together a platform that appeals to both in-district and out-of-district students."

According to responses provided by Lewis, a typical virtual student is taking anywhere from one to six classes in science, language arts, social studies, math, world languages, AP courses, technology and electives.

A full list of classes can be found by clicking on the publications tab of the OVA link on the district's website.

Lewis said the district paid approximately $50,000 for the classes, which were purchased from Aventa, E20/20, Plato and Powerspeak.

She also noted the district will be receiving "anywhere from a .03 to a full 1.0 FTE, which is dependent upon the number of classes and the amount of time the classes meet."

Lewis said the district should have an OVA revenue estimate in November when results from count day, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 5, are verified.

During the September 12 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent of Oxford Community School's Dr. William Skilling said the number of virtual students could really grow next year.

"I (and others) think what is going to happen . . . is that next year . . . there (are) going to be no borders when it comes to virtual students...so to be out front on this is really critical," he said.

Skilling also noted during the board meeting that the district was beginning a search for a building to lease for the OVA.

Lewis explained via email the lease would be needed to "provide a computer lab and computer center for students needing assistance for their online classes throughout the day as well as evening hours."

She added the district had yet to identify a location and there was "no cost information available."

Skilling informed the board of education the district was the only district in the state to have been given a waiver for elementary students to attend OVA.

"We can register elementary students full time with the curriculum we have created, so we expect to see more enrollment at the elementary (level) as a result of that," he said.

Skilling added most elementary students who sign up for virtual classes typically are home school students.

"What is happening is a shift from a home-school parent that is educating a child at home purchasing virtual curriculums from other sources now get it free through us, and in return, we get the FTE," Skilling said.

During the meeting, Board Trustee Mary Stein asked if part-time virtual students were required to take the mandated state tests.

"If you are a part-time, homeschooling student, you do not have to take any state assessment," explained Denise Sweat, the Associate Superintendent of Student Services for the district. "If you are a full-time student and you are taking core classes, you are required to take the state assessment."

Skilling said the growth of the virtual academy, along with the Oxford International Residence Academy, puts the district in good financial shape going forward, especially with the state expected to cut another $400-$500 per pupil from the foundation allowance.

"We can look at that and say oh, boy that is really going to cause problems, and that will, but at the same token we have increased our revenue potential so greatly, I think next year, with the residential academy and the foundation that got laid this year along with what we have done virtually...I think this puts us in a really good position," he said.