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Pasco County's new eSchool program flexible for students and parents

LAND O'LAKES — This fall all Florida school districts must launch their own K-12 online education programs. Most had not even begun to create their systems before the Legislature passed the mandate in the spring.

JoAnne Glenn is principal of Pasco's eSchool, which debuts later this month. She spoke with the Times about the effort of going from nothing to a full-fledged school during a single summer.

What are the basics of this school and where do you see it going? Most people don't even know it exists.

Basically, we're in the process of hiring teachers. And in our first year our target … is the students in Pasco County schools who have been quietly taking courses online from the Florida Virtual School … as a part of their regular school day.

We're also lucky enough to be able to serve students who are in home education settings, private schools and charter schools. We feel like that's a large enough population to sustain the demand for our courses yet small enough to let us grow and develop our policies and procedures to allow our program to continue.

What number are you looking at as a target?

Well, in the elementary program K-5 we're looking at probably 50 students this year. And about 30 of those students are reverting to us. They have been participating in a pilot program through our two vendors. … The remaining group of students would be new students who are leaving the public school system and embracing this option for a full-time education program.

And they do it at home?

Yes they do. The parents serve as … a learning coach and they will work with the students. It's a combination of online and offline work at the elementary level.

What about the students who have never enrolled in the public schools before? There was a concern that they would not be able to join this program unless they sat in a classroom for a year before they did this. Is that still an issue?

That is still an issue at the elementary level. The legislation did not change the eligibility requirements. So currently only students who have been in the public school system for the previous school year and were submitted for our survey times … and children of military personnel who have been transferred to Florida, those are the only group of students that would be an exception to the rule.

The school itself has an office at Crews Lake Middle School, right?

Actually they have changed the location to Sunlake High School. And the explanation for that is that Sunlake offers a little bit more in terms of guidance services.

Where will the teachers sit?

The teachers will be at home. These are Pasco County teachers who are working in our schools by day. And after their work day they are serving our students … for courses in 6-12.

The elementary teachers … are employed by our vendors, K-12 and Connections Academy. And those teachers are based in Orlando and would work a more traditional work day.

The teachers, one of the things I read in the agreement is they would be paid based on passing grades earned by the students in addition to a stipend of $2,000. Is that right?

That is the memo of understanding that we are negotiating. … The rationale for that form of compensation model is that our whole entire school is funded differently than a traditional brick-and-mortar school. … We have to submit for funding after the services have already been provided. And we can only claim funding for students who have earned a passing grade in the course.

How do you make sure that your teachers don't grade inflate to justify their pay?

I know that's a question when people first see that compensation package. They think, "Well, everybody will just get an A." The truth is, the curriculum is provided in grades 6-12 by the Florida Virtual School and there is a quality assurance process. Florida Virtual will monitor, and I will monitor, by doing what we are actually calling classroom walk-throughs. … I will be able to look at the assignments that are submitted, the types of feedback the teachers have made, the timeliness of the feedback. … The other piece of that is there are checkpoints along the way for academic integrity, including things like discussion-based assessments, which are phone interviews. There are different formats for online exams and assessments. So teachers do not have complete control over all grading.

Do you get to pick the teachers?

Yes.

Do you look for people who have already taught online? For people who are skilled with computers? Or do you just look for the best teachers and then worry about the online stuff later?

That's a great question too. We had over 200 applicants for our teaching positions, and we will bring in 26 teachers for training. …

We focused on finding teachers that were student-centered and flexible and committed to student learning. We believe that we can teach our teachers the skills they need to be successful online.

Students who want to get in can register any time? Or what do they have to do to get in?

Students in grades K-5 have to register between now and Sept. 18. They can go to our district Web site and click on the link to the Pasco virtual instruction program. They can choose their vendor, K-12 or Connections Academy. … Then we will go through with the vendor and verify that they are eligible for the program. Students in grades 6-12 have more flexibility. … They can simply go to our Web site and follow the instructions to enroll in courses.

When you have the sixth through 12th graders, do you need to have the parents home as well? Do you need to have some assurance that they will be there?

We require that the parents create what's called a parent or guardian account, and that's for purposes of electronic communication with the teacher. The parents must approve the course selections. And they have access to check on their students' progress any time. In addition to that, the only actual time we require the parents to be available is for scheduled monthly progress phone calls.

I guess I'm thinking of truancy also. Because if parents are at work and the kids are signed up for this program, it's the same kind of thing as not having your kid in school, in a lot of ways.

You're right. The students who participate in a full-time online program … must log in for 180 days out of the 240 days available, from Aug. 24 through June 9. Now, we can count Saturdays and Sundays as log-in days, which can free up parents and students to schedule vacations at times that in a physical school would mean missing days. But yes, they do have attendance requirements in terms of logging in.

But the time at which they do that is not important. And we're really looking at student mastery of the curriculum, so we can be looking not just at did they log in on a given day, or for how much time. It's not about seat time. It's their performance. … If a student isn't logging in and isn't progressing, they will be required to return to a physical school setting.

If I'm sitting at home, do I have to have a specific computer and software? Or can I use whatever I have?

Anything that most families are using now to access the Internet would be sufficient.

Fast Facts

To learn more

Pasco eSchool will have open houses to talk about its programs Tuesday at Mitchell High School, Aug. 11 at Sunlake High School and Aug. 14 at Wiregrass Ranch High School. All events begin at 6 p.m. To register for Pasco eSchool, visit www.pasco.k12.fl.us/pvip.

Pasco County's new eSchool program flexible for students and parents 08/02/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 2, 2009 8:00pm]

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