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Virtual charter school could be coming to Elkhorn Area School District

By Andrea Anderson
July 26, 2015

ELKHORN—The Elkhorn Area School District is scheduled to take an existing alternative education program a step further.

Pending a vote Monday evening, the school district will be home to a virtual charter school that would allow out-of-district students to take all classes online.

The school board has drafted a contract with the proposed Elkhorn OPtions Virtual Charter School governance council.

Without the charter status, open-enrollment students taking classes online had to take at least one class at district brick and mortar schools, Sara Tanner, principal of the district's OPtions program, said.

OPtions, a group of alternative education programs overseen by the district and offered to students living in the district and outside the district, wrapped up its first year in June.

OPtions--the capital “O” stands for opportunities and the “P” stands for possibilities”--offers district curriculum customized to each student through grades 4K and up who want to do classes at home online, with parents at home or have a blend of time at home or at a school.

During its first year, parents outside the district expressed interest in open-enrolling in a virtual program that allowed their children to take all the classes online and also participate in district extracurricular activities, Jason Tadlock, district superintendent, said.

State law requires the district to form a charter school to allow out-of-district students interested in taking all classes online to enroll in the district's existing online program, Tadlock said.

The charter school would provide students a rich learning experience to people as far as Milwaukee, Tanner said.

Tanner has two children in the OPtions program.

Parents are looking for flexible learning options and ways to tailor their child's education to meet interests, learning styles and schedules.

Students will have the option to take any classes at the district such as band, science labs and music and can also participate in extracurricular activities and school events such as graduation and dances.

Special field trips and opportunities for parents also exist for OPtions enrollees.

Other virtual charters require students to be logged on at a certain time, Elkhorn's wouldn't do that, Tanner said.

“Kids really do have a unique learning style and this program caters to that,” Tanner said.

“It's been a huge blessing to me and my family because one of the neat things is if their learning style changes, you have all the resources of the school to help you and the teachers there as an asset.”

Last year, the district expected 20 students to enroll in OPtions. It had about 65, Tadlock said.

Tanner is expecting about 50 students to be enrolled in the charter this year if it is approved Monday.

The charter calendar year has 150 instruction days and does not need to follow the traditional academic calendar, Tadlock said. Students within the district can also apply to be in the charter school.

District teachers and licensed online teachers will grade the students' work. District teachers will work with parents to tailor curriculum to each student, Tanner said.

Students will have the opportunity to come into the school for help or use Skype and online office hours.

The charter school isn't about making money, Tadlock said, it's about providing a quality education to all those who want it in the way that best suits each child.

The district has budgeted about $200,000 for the charter's curriculum, staff and materials, Tadlock said. The figure does not including state aid for students.