Janesville looking to add online middle schoolers

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Frank Schultz
Friday, May 11, 2012
— The Janesville School District might soon expand its online high school to include middle school students.

The move would be another way to attract students from outside the district, according to the minutes of the Superintendent's Advisory Committee, which approved the proposal.

The school board has tasked the superintendent with increasing enrollment as a way of increasing district revenue.

Expansion of the Janesville Virtual Academy would help retain district students who "need alternative learning options," according to the minutes.

The academy allows students to complete high school at home through online courses or to get caught up so they can return to regular high school.

The expansion would begin in September. The school board is expected to take up the proposal at an upcoming meeting.

Dave Parr, the school's main teacher, said the academy now teaches 70 high school students.

Eleven Janesville middle school students and three middle schoolers who have applied to enter the district through the state open-enrollment process are ready to join the academy, Parr said.

"People keep calling and asking all the time, so I expect at least 20 by the fall," Parr said.

With those kinds of numbers, the expansion would more than pay for itself, Parr said.

The state will shift $6,445 in aid to the receiving district for each open-enrollment student in 2012-13.

Parr said he hears from parents who want online schooling for their children, and when they can't get it from Janesville, they apply to McFarland, Monroe and other public online schools that offer middle school.

The three out-of-district families who want to join the school all have parents who work in the Janesville area, Parr said.

Theoretically, students don't need to be close to Janesville to "attend" the academy, but being close can help. Students often go to the school's classroom a Jefferson Elementary School to get help in person, Parr said.

Proximity also helps teachers forge a bond with students. Parr said officials have looked at online schools in other states and found that successful students are those who have a personal connection to someone at the school.

Parr said it would take 12 students to cover the costs, and 14 already are lined up, so he expects the online middle school to run in the black in its first year.

"I know the school board is very conscious about how this affects the bottom line, and this actually brings money in," Parr said.

Startup costs will include buying a software package that provides a middle school curriculum, Parr said.

Janesville belongs to a 13-district consortium of online schools. The consortium, which will expand to 16 districts this fall, is sharing the cost of the software purchase, Parr said.

About 30 students have graduated from the academy since it started five years ago, Parr said. Many more have completed enough courses to allow them to return to regular high schools.

Last updated: 8:36 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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