ARISE, the Janesville School District’s virtual school, is bracing for what could be a 1,000% increase in enrollment this fall.

Hundreds of parents concerned about COVID-19 are expected to enroll their children in virtual school rather than have them return to classrooms.

Superintendent Steve Pophal said ARISE could have close to 2,000 students this fall, up from enrollment this spring of 350 students—150 full-time and 200 part-time.

The district’s parent survey indicates an even bigger increase.

About 10% of parents said they preferred fully virtual education this fall, and another 35% indicated they wanted a mix of in-person and virtual learning. That would mean about 4,500 students participating at ARISE this fall.

“I’m excited because I think this is an incredible opportunity,” ARISE Principal David Parr said. “I think the future is coming, and it’s now been forced upon us.

“The reality is that once you leave high school, half of all college classes are online. When you go to work, a lot of that is online. This is forcing schools to look at how people learn in the real world. A lot of the things we learn, we do it online. We’re here helping students learn that right now, and we look forward to making the Janesville School District a better place for our students,” Parr said.

Parents have until Aug. 1 to decide how to enroll their children this fall.

Janesville also is expecting more students from outside the district to choose ARISE.

This spring, ARISE had 30 full-time students from outside the Janesville School District. As of Wednesday, it already had 60 students from outside the district registered for this fall, and more families were completing paperwork.

There is no tuition for Wisconsin families to enroll at ARISE.

Teachers wanted

ARISE hires teachers to fit enrollment. This spring, 12 teachers filled the equivalent of seven full-time positions.

This fall, the district would add close to 50 new part-time teachers to accommodate 2,000 students, Parr said. More teachers would be needed if enrollment is higher.

The district has reached out to retired teachers, substitute teachers and teachers at other Janesville schools who don’t have full schedules to help at ARISE.

“Teaching online is not like teaching in a classroom. We have a three-day training in place for those teachers and will give instructional videos. We will also have daily check-ins so teachers can call in with questions and get them answered as they come up,” Parr said.

The virtual school has long used retired teachers as part-time educators, but more likely will be needed this fall, Parr said.

Per state statutes, recently retired teachers can teach only 60% of full-time. Teachers also would need specific teaching certifications and online training.

Those who typically teach in person but have medical issues could be allowed instead to teach at ARISE as a COVID-19 precaution.

Online learning

On a typical day at ARISE, students log in and receive a to-do list for the day. Each student has about seven classes each day, which equates to three to five hours of work. With breaks and lunch, it equates to an eight-hour day, Parr said.

Students have assignments in English each Tuesday and social studies each Thursday. Civics and math classes have assignments every day. Other classes are mixed throughout the week.

Difficult lessons in core classes such as algebra might be given twice to allow for better understanding.

All assignments must be turned in, and low quality work must be redone. Midterm exams offer checkpoints for students and teachers to allow them to discuss how each student can succeed in an online learning environment, Parr said.

Exams are proctored, and students must pass the final exams to pass classes.

The school’s space at Franklin Middle School will not be available to students for extra help this year, but teachers will have designated times when they are online and available for additional help. A small group of support staff will be on-site at Franklin to answer phones and provide in-house assistance, Parr said.