The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 3, 2012

Danville Area School District studies cyber classes

By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News

— DANVILLE — School district officials are researching what advantages district-sponsored cyber classes could bring to students.

“We’re looking into that,” said Danville school board President Allan Schappert.

Superintendent Cheryl Latorre and school board member Joseph Stemm also support looking into online classes as an option, Schappert said.

“There’s a whole host of reasons. Some kids just don’t learn well in a traditional classroom, there are too many distractions,” he said.

Parents in other parts of the country have used cyber schools as an option because they are worried about bullies. It could also provide an alternative for expelled or suspended students to continue their educations, or to provide basic-level instruction that doesn’t require the time of a teacher, he said.

Lessons that largely require memorization, such as multiplication tables, could be better suited for online classes so that class time can be saved to review more complex lessons and assignments, Schappert said.

Dawn Brookhart, Danville’s curriculum and technology director, agreed that a cyber program would help district students.

“It would certainly allow us to supplement our own curriculum,” she said. “It allows students to have a hybrid learning model.”

A middle school student, for example, who placed excelled math would not have to transfer to the high school away from their classmates, but could instead take more advanced math courses online, Brookhart said.

World language study could also benefit, she said.

Supplemental online courses could be completed in a computer lab or with a laptop at the school library, Brookhart said. Danville has just under 2,400 children in its school district, said Schappert, and roughly 40 to 60 each year attend cyber schools.

“We want to give our kids every advantage. We’re also cognizant of cost,” Schappert said.

In some cases, a computer-based class may be cost-effective as it cuts down on supplies needed by a teacher and allows an instructor to handle a larger number of students.

“The existing cyber schools have fallen far short of their promise, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad idea,” Schappert said.

Pennsylvania’s 12 charter cyber schools are “very poor, in terms of having their students reach AYP (adequate yearly progress),” Brookhart said. When the state cyber schools are taken as a whole, only 40 percent of their students graduate at state proficiency for subjects such as reading and math, she said.

A 13th state cyber school, Frontier Virtual Charter High School, surrendered its charter in July, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website.

Offering cyber programs could also increase Danville’s revenue by luring back students who had left for the web.

While the district is usually reimbursed by the state for each student who attends its schools, Danville receives no money for the students living in the area who attend cyber schools. Last year, those students attending online classes could have netted the district about $340,000 if they went to Danville, said Brookhart.

There is not yet a price tag on the project because it is still in an exploratory phase.

While Danville’s cyber program is still conjecture, it does provide the district with a fresh way of looking at education, Schappert said. “Sometimes when you think you’re in a groove, you’re really in a rut.”