SKSD creating its own online high school program

South Kitsap School District could feature an online high school as soon as this fall.

The Explorer Academy, a home-schooling program operated by the district, has offered an online curriculum for students in kindergarten through eighth grade for the past two years.

“There are a number of students going off and doing online programs outside the district,” said Explorer Academy principal Pat Oster, adding that the current program features 100 students and is a break-even financial proposition for the district. “We can provide that for free here.”

He said the program likely will encompass just ninth graders this fall and will integrate a full high-school program for the 2010-11 school year.

“We want to make sure this is a quality program that we’re providing for families,” Oster said. “It’s not just something where they can earn a quick credit.”

Online schooling programs are offered through a few different districts in Washington, but Oster said there is a benefit for students to stay local. He said online students have access to teachers and administrators in the district.

Oster also said online students have the same access to clubs and athletics as every student in SKSD.

“They can really still be a part of our Port Orchard and South Kitsap School District community,” he said. “They aren’t able to do all those bits and pieces with a regular statewide online program.”

Oster said the district is looking at the financial aspect of offering a program — he said there have been discussions with two or three companies about purchasing an online program — but doesn’t have a figure for those yet.

The online program also could benefit the district from an enrollment standpoint. South Kitsap assistant superintendent for business and support Terri Patton said at the July 8 district board meeting that she projected enrollment to decline from 9,759 to 9,665 full-time equivalent students for the 2009-10 school year.

The district receives approximately $5,200 per student from the state.

“It certainly is an effort to re-engage students who are leaving our district,” Oster said. “We recognize there are other programs out there. We want to provide that same opportunity for them here.”

He said online students will have access to science labs and math workshops at South Kitsap High School in addition to opportunities for one-on-one instruction from teachers.

“These aren’t easy programs,” he said. “They are challenging and rigorous and they need the support we provide for them.”

Oster said online students also will be able to take classes that count for college credit, similar to the Running Start program, in addition to the option to mix a course load through taking classes online and at South Kitsap High School or alternative programs.

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