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Enrollment in Hernando eSchool likely to double this year

Hernando eSchool has students enrolled in about 1,850 semesterlong courses. Students took 2,411 courses in all of last school year.

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Hernando eSchool has students enrolled in about 1,850 semesterlong courses. Students took 2,411 courses in all of last school year.

BROOKSVILLE — Thirteen-year-old Jenny Marty spent six years in the Hernando County School District's brick-and-mortar classrooms before leaving for the virtual ones.

It's a change that fits her well.

"I really like taking the online courses because you get to work at your own pace," said Jenny, an eighth-grader, who noted that she used to struggle to keep up in school. "You don't have a lot of distractions."

She says her grades have improved. She feels like she's learning more. And she definitely recommends the online courses she has taken through Hernando eSchool, the district's virtual school.

She's one of a growing number.

The eSchool is on pace to double — and perhaps more than double — its enrollment for the 2013-14 school year, according to principal Debra Harris.

Now in its fourth year, the virtual school has students enrolled in roughly 1,850 semesterlong courses — a number that is continuing to grow, Harris said. For the entire 2012-13 school year, students took 2,411 courses.

Harris expects to see upward of 4,000 completed courses this year — some taken at home, others at schools.

"We're very, very pleased that we are busy," she said.

The announcement comes after news of layoffs at Florida Virtual School, which saw enrollment for August and September courses drop 32 percent from the previous year.

The likely culprit: new legislation that causes school districts to receive less state funding when a student signs up for Florida Virtual School or another provider other than the school district.

"That, beyond any doubt, impacted things," Harris said.

On average across Florida, she said, districts lose about $480 per semesterlong class that students take through Florida Virtual School or an outside provider. In many cases, students take their online classes while at school, which means the district must provide computer time, supervision, technology and other services, Harris said.

But she thinks there's another reason for the increase in enrollment at the Hernando eSchool.

"I believe that we're doing a better job," she said. "We know our audience. We know our students. We have a stake in our community."

She added, "We're smaller, so we try harder."

The Hernando eSchool has been growing rapidly since it started during the 2010-11 school year.

The first year, the eSchool had 780 course completions. The next year, it had 1,401. For both years, the school served only grades 6 through 12.

For the 2012-13 year, the school added kindergarten through Grade 5. The number of completed courses jumped to 2,411.

Michael Provost, the eSchool's technical coordinator, has been with the virtual school for two years and said he has noticed a definite change in the acceptance of the school.

One major reason: the results.

"We score at the top — near the top — of the district, especially math and science," Provost said. "We really pay attention in our district to keeping kids on pace."

Rusty Drummond, a social studies teacher with the eSchool and a former Hernando High teacher of 15 years, agreed.

"I think the quality of the learning is probably equal or far exceeds that of a brick-and-mortar," Drummond said.

Parents are also starting to recognize the value of the courses for remediation and getting ahead in school.

The school has worked hard to battle misconceptions about what online schooling actually entails, namely that the course are easy, Provost said.

"It's rigorous," he said.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Enrollment in Hernando eSchool likely to double this year 08/27/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 5:27pm]
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