The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

July 7, 2014

District, citing costs, plans to open cyber school

Hopes to lure students back

HERMITAGE — Beginning this fall, the figurative door will open for the Hermitage School District Cyber School.

Whether there will be any students lining up at the door ... well, time will tell.

District Technology Coordinator Frank Gingras, in introducing the plan recently to the school board, was direct in explaining the motive behind the school.

“Why are we looking at this? It basically comes down to funding,” Gingras said.

The district could save a ton if some of the Hermitage school-aged students now attending cyber charter schools – 48 this past school year – can be lured to the district cyber school.

But, Superintendent Dr. Daniel Bell, said he had a longer range goal.

“The whole goal is to get them back walking the halls of our school district,” Bell said. “That’s where the best education takes place.”

Parents are allowed to pull their children from public school so they can attend a public charter school, and the school district must pass on to the charter school a portion of the per-student expense based on a formula set in state law.

Hermitage School District this year had six students with Individualized Education Program plans attending cyber schools. The district had to pay $17,310 each to the cyber schools, for a total of $103,826.

The state Department of Education said IEP plans are developed for children with disabilities or are in need of specially designed instruction.

The district also had 42 non-IEP students attend cyber schools at a cost of $8,586 each, and a total of $360,596.

The total the district paid to cyber schools: $464,458.

School officials researched the more popular cyber charter schools attended by district kids and decided they needed to come up with a program that meets certain educational standards and is engaging but also is flexible in ways enjoyed by students, said Joe Kulbacki, technology coordinator and integration coach.

The district decided to hire outside educational and curriculum providers to provide the actual education to students.

They chose Accelerate Education, Anthem, Ariz., for grades kindergarten through four; EdisonLearning of Knoxville, Tenn., for grades 5 through 12; and Apex Learning, Seattle, Wash., for advanced placement classes.

The district also would provide a Chromebook computer, supplies and Internet access to each student.

The cyber school would not require any additional Hermitage staff, officials said.

The cost of educating a student through the new Hermitage cyber school would cost $2,595 for any student in grades kindergarten through four, and $2,545 for any student in grades five through 12.

The carrot Hermitage officials are using to attract cyber school students is that they would get a Hickory High School diploma, and be allowed to participate in sports, clubs and Summer Academy programs.

The Hickory diploma alone would be more favorably viewed by employers and colleges than a typical cyber school diploma, Kulbacki said.

Some questions have yet to be answered, such as whether cyber students would be allowed to attend the graduation ceremony.

“There are probably 50 issues out there like that,” Bell said.

The Hermitage cyber school would only be open to Hermitage residents. Bell said he has no interest in serving kids from outside the district’s borders.

The cyber school program also is not an attempt to lure students from Keystone Charter School, West Salem Township, or any other bricks-and-mortar charter school, Gingras said.

The district will contact families of cyber school students and make themselves available through home visits and family information nights.

“We have basically one chance to win them back,” Kulbacki said. “We need to get in front of these families and sell the Hermitage brand.”

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