The Centennial School District spends about a half million dollars each year to send local youth to cyber charter schools, according to the state, and the district could save a significant portion of that by having its own online program.
That was the message Monday night from the the director of Bridges Virtual Education Services, who made a presentation to the school board's education committee.
"There are over a dozen cyber schools in the commonwealth today, and more and more students ... across the United States are selecting online learning. ... There is a growing trend across the United States," said Chris Harrington, the former director of technology and head of cyber education for Quakertown schools.
Harrington told the committee the Quakertown district started its online program with 90 students in 2009-2010 and now has more than 300 cyber students. He said that has translated into a savings of more than $250,000 a year. He told Patch after the presentation that savings stood at about $295,000 in 2010-2011.
He said Quakertown learned that cyber charter school students wanted to earn a diploma from Quakertown High School.
"That was important to them," he said. "They wanted to be a part of the local educational community."
Harrington explained that having Bridges develop and market a customized cyber school program for Centennial would cost an annual membership fee of $5,000 plus $400 to $425 per credit, depending upon the number of courses taken. But the latter cost, he said, could be mitigated for each period provided by a Bridges-trained Centennial teacher. And there also is a revenue sharing opportunity for Centennial of up to $1,500.
"We don't want to be in the business of taking districts' money," he said of Bridges, which is a consortium of of the Quakertown district and the Bucks County Intermediate Unit which utilizes local educators.
Harrington also explained that students who choose to take online courses through public districts are not required to do that exclusively. Of the 140 students last year in Quakertown, he said, only 12 were full-time cyber students.
"We call that blended learning," he said.
Assistant Superintendent Joyce Mundy explained that Centennial currently offers online courses for students who need credit recovery. She told Patch the district plans to look at options for expanding that into a full-fledged cyber program by the 2013-2014 school year.
Mundy said the district has students who are unable to attend a full school day and others who would be interested in taking courses not available through the district, such as higher level world languages.
"And students could work through a course at a different pace," she added.
While school board member Mark Miller, who is not a member of the committee, said he opposes cyber schools, committee chairwoman Jane Schrader Lynch was impressed with the Bridges presentation. Lynch said the cyber program would be "tremendous" for summer school students and added, "this is big stuff and it's exciting, and it sounds good to me."
In other business, Jo Ann Perotti, director of strategic planning for the Buck County Intermediate Unit, told the committee that districts will soon be putting together one comprehensive strategic plan every three years rather than several separate ones covering different areas including special education and technology. That new all-encompassing strategic plan must be completed by Nov. 30, 2012, and stakeholders are now being put together, she said.