You have probably seen television commercials for cyber charter schools. These commercials emphasize that the online curriculum allows students to learn at home at their own pace. Fleetwood operates its own cyber education program called the Fleetwood Virtual School.
Fleetwood Virtual School uses published online curricula that challenges each student. The specific curriculum is selected by the student’s guidance counselor. For example, students needing challenging courses receive a different curriculum compared with students who need adaptations in their courses. The district provides a laptop computer (and printer for a primary student). Additional materials are provided for K-6 students while secondary students have all of their materials online. Students in the Fleetwood Virtual School are assigned a guidance counselor, may come to school to receive extra help on any skill from their studies, and students with an IEP are supervised by one of our special education teachers. Students are permitted to work at their own pace although they have a specific number of days to complete their course work. Some students choose to work intensively on half of their courses and then move onto the other half when they have finished the first courses.
Fleetwood Virtual School students are students of the Fleetwood Area School District. As such, they are entitled to take any courses at their home school and participate in all of the activities provided by the school. They may participate on any of our athletic teams or in any of the extra-curricular activities. They may also attend special activities such as student dances at the middle and high school. They may, if they choose, come to their home school to take any course in which they are interested. We presently have elementary students who come to their home school for classes in art, music, physical education, and media. Some high school virtual school students come to the high school for art, honors academic courses, elective courses, and physical education. As you can see, there are many options for students who want a mixture of online and home school courses.
One of the changes we are implementing for next school year is that the ‘point of contact’ for all virtual school students will be their guidance counselor. This will ensure that all virtual school students and their families will receive regular communication about their school work, can discuss and request changes to their schedule, and will be kept informed about events at their home school. The guidance counselor will call a student’s home a few times a month to check in with the student and parents. The counselor will also be able to arrange for the student to come to school for activities or to receive additional help in a subject.
The district reviews each virtual school student’s performance on their courses weekly. As noted above, the student’s guidance counselor will call a few times each month to check in with the student and parents. Communication will be more frequent if a student is not progressing on their work. If concerns persist, a meeting will be requested to discuss the student’s progress and to plan ways to help the student improve.
When a student enrolls in a cyber charter school (not the district’s virtual school), the district is required to pay the charter school a specific tuition set by the state. This year, a cyber charter school will receive an annual payment of $9,130 from Fleetwood for a regular education student. The estimated annual cost this year for students enrolled in the district’s virtual school is $6,365. A cyber charter school therefore receives a payment that is more than 140% of the school district’s cost to provide a virtual curriculum. In a report dated June 2012, the Pennsylvania Auditor General found that local school districts across the state were required to pay cyber charter schools $365 million above the audited cost for those cyber schools. Although the funding of cyber charter schools has been discussed by legislators, they have yet to act on a resolution. Meanwhile, as school districts struggle to fund their programs, they are required to pay cyber charter schools a rate that far exceeds their actual costs.
In conclusion, if you are thinking about having your child take some or all of his/her courses online, or if you have one of your children attending a cyber charter school, please come to our FASD Virtual School Open House that will be held on Wednesday May 7 at 6 p.m. in the board room at the high school. Our counselors and representatives of our online curriculum companies will be here to answer your questions. I believe the opportunities available to students in the Fleetwood Virtual School provide distinct advantages over cyber charter schools, including the opportunity for students to receive face-to-face instruction when a student is struggling with their studies, and a very real savings for our taxpayers.
Upcoming Events in the Fleetwood Area School District
April 5 – Pasta and Presto, High School 3 to 9 p.m. April 14-16 – Emergency closing make-up days, school in session April 17 - 21. School closed holiday/spring break.
May 1 – Spring Blood Drive, High School.
The Board of School Directors will meet on April 8 and 15 both at 7 p.m.
Dr. Paul Eaken is superintendent for Fleetwood School District.