When superintendent Bill Harbron of the Northern Ozaukee School District in Fredonia, Wisconsin decided it was time to offer more instructional alternatives to students and parents, an e-learning program seemed like the perfect fit. After researching and considering several options, he invited e-learning content provider K12 to present its program to his staff, and they were impressed. They liked the rigorous curriculum, personalized approach, support, and flexibility. In addition, they felt they would learn a lot about their regular curriculum, methods, and assessments in the process of creating an e-learning charter alternative, and they could use what they learned to strengthen their brick-and-mortar schools as well.
Currently, they are in the second year of their e-learning charter school program, and while only seven of their traditional students attend the virtual school, they've acquired 603 out-of-district (open-enrollment) students — along with the funding for those youngsters that make the virtual program self-supporting. The state pays them $5,500 per student, all of which supports the charter school.
The decision-making process was quick. They had two weeks to decide if they wanted to be part of Wisconsin's open-enrollment registration period. Herbron and his staff spent the time in intensive meetings with K12 and the school board and made the decision to move forward. After that came the detailed planning they needed to begin.
The school board was enthusiastic, and members felt they were creating a cutting-edge type of delivery that could promote good home-school partnerships and impact the district's brick-and-mortar program too. The curriculum committee reviewed the courses and assessment measures and recommended that the entire board take a look. The next step was to develop a timeline to approve the contract with K12 and the district's charter agreement. Once those pieces were in place, they started hiring administrators and teachers and making sure the infrastructure to support the virtual school was in place.
Habron's advice to others setting out to institute an online learning options? Plan, plan, plan. The following six steps detail key considerations.
Six Steps to Planning for a Virtual School
- Create a vision: Decide why virtual learning would be a good complement to your current education program.
- Determine courses: Decide what purpose online classes would best serve and which are needed — advanced placement, course recovery, or other. Evaluate course design, course delivery and levels of interactivity, course completion (if you are considering purchasing or licensing content), and technical support needed.
- Review personnel issues: Determine teacher and supervisor responsibilities and methods and the levels of communication between students and administrators needed. Determine student requirements to enroll and complete classes, and whether they must take classes on-site or at home.
- Assess the infrastructure:
Decide how online classes fit into your current administrative structure in terms of course content, delivery, quality, effectiveness, assessment, and reporting assessment results.
- Explore costs: Plan a budget that addresses the costs of developing or licensing content, delivery, management, and technical support, and determine funding sources.
- Institute quality: Evaluate course design, content, and standards alignment; determine policy issues such as school accreditation, teacher certification, and assessment measures to ensure quality. Also determine who will asses the virtual school program and the criteria that will be used.
Gwen Solomon is director of TechLearning.com.
A Day in the Life of a Virtual Administrator
Curious about the difference between face-to-face and virtual administration? Earl Grier, principal of Commonwealth Connections Academy, gives a rundown of a typical day on the job.
Tuesday, February 1, 2005
7:30 AM Left home for drive to the office
8:30 AM Arrived at the office
8:45 AM Reviewed mail; Distributed items to staff that I prepared the night before; Distributed items to my assistant and the special ed. supervisor that I prepared the night before; Sorted items to send to our Baltimore office
9:00 AM Began reviewing the status of students I enrolled the night before; Was briefly interrupted to meet with a teacher regarding a computer glitch she experienced while on a trip to Florida
9:15 AM Called a parent who e-mailed me about enrolling in our program
9:20 AM Short discussion with a teacher regarding a student's record
9:30 AM Spoke to a parent regarding disenrollment from our program and completed all processing
9:35 AM Called another parent who left a voice mail regarding enrollment
9:40 AM Called our Baltimore office regarding postal service
9:45 AM Called another parent regarding enrollment
10:00 AM Mid-year review with a teacher, evaluation and status check on students; Brief discussion with a teacher on status of some curriculum changes; Call from a parent regarding math level of a student from previous year
10:30 AM Community coordinator meeting via conference call
11:00 AM Discussion with tech staff at the DOE regarding message filter, followed by a call to our tech department to resolve the issue; Called a parent regarding math placement
11:10 AM Spoke to a parent regarding placement concerns, Plato vs. Calvert curriculum
11:30 AM Conducted a meeting with teachers to discuss replacement curriculum and entered data in logs
11:40 AM Met with teachers regarding sending additional curriculum to a family currently using Plato
11:50 AM Entered information in a parent log; Called a parent who had moved requesting the return of material; Discussed student status with a teacher, parent's lack of communication
12:00 PM Contacted a school district over billing of a student
12:15 PM Lunch
12:45 PM Answered Web mail and e-mails from parents
1:00 PM Sent information to all families regarding some upcoming events
1:15 PM Contact with Baltimore regarding some contracts for this year
1:20 PM Discussion with a parent regarding enrollment in the program
1:30 PM Discussion with a parent about obtaining working papers for his children
1:40 PM Meeting with a teacher about a family's progress in curriculum and their involvement in Homeroom.com program in preparation for the PSSA testing
1:45 PM Call from a parent over program from last year
1:50 PM Conference with the special ed. supervisor about the needs of a student
2:00 PM Generated an announcement to all families regarding the end of the second nine weeks
2:15 PM Reviewed communications from a number of school districts about invoices; Faxed some information to our business office for review regarding district invoiced; Reviewed communications from the local Intermediate Unit regarding grants and audits
2:30 PM Spoke to and offered employment to a dentist, doctor, and a school nurse
2:45 PM Reviewed checks and other correspondence to be forwarded to Baltimore
3:00 PM Prepared documents to be submitted to the dept. of ed. regarding our annual report
3:10 PM Returned a call to a parent who was interested in our program
3:15 PM Prepared some documents for the next board meeting
3:25 PM Answered additional e-mails and Web mails; Met with my PSSA test coordinator over a few issues; Scheduled a conference with a teacher regarding evaluation
3:40 PM Had a conversation with our tech department regarding blocked e-mail
4:00 PM Another meeting with the test coordinator
4:10 PM Composed and sent a warning letter to a parent
4:20 PM Reviewed student status reports
5:00 PM Went home
9:00 to 11:30 PM Completed a number of items including assigning new students to teachers; Completed evaluations on teachers; Began gathering data for a grant; E-mailed some parents who were interested in enrolling