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FAYETTEVILLE -- School officials hope to open an online charter school for the 2016-17 school year.

The Fayetteville School District plans to request a conversion charter from the state for an online school that initially would serve about 100 students in the fourth through eighth grades, said Kim Garrett, associate superintendent for secondary education. The school would add ninth and 10th grades in 2017-18, 11th and 12th grades in 2018-19 and kindergarten through third grade in 2019-20.

Key Dates

Key dates for proposed Fayetteville online charter school

• Aug. 10: 6 p.m. public hearing at the Adams Leadership Center, 1000 W. Bulldog Blvd.

• Sept. 9: Charter application due to state Department of Education

• November: State Charter Authorizing Panel conducts hearings on proposed district-operated charter schools

• December: State Board of Education decides whether to review panel’s decisions

Source: Fayetteville School District

A public hearing is set Aug. 10. The district must submit an application for the district-conversion charter to the state Department of Education by Sept. 9.

The state's Charter Authorizing Panel meets in November. The State Board of Education would decide whether to review the panel's decision in December.

"We have a lot of interest from students and parents in online options for students," Garrett said. "This may give that family the flexibility they're after or even the choice in curriculum."

The district began researching online curriculum a year ago, she said.

High school students like the idea of taking online courses as an option to pick up extra courses, School Board member Susan Heil said. She's interested to see what happens when the option is provided to younger students.

Students will face taking online courses in high school and college, she said.

"It's a good way to get kids used to it early," Heil said. "It's just another approach to education."

The development of a online school is a bold idea that is encouraging to the business community, said Steve Clark, president and chief executive officer of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. Businesses already need online stores and websites to reach customers.

"They can't grow or maintain their business if they can't compete in a market that's an Internet of things," Clark said. "When Fayetteville takes a lead on something like this, now they're thinking like we're thinking. We're serving our customers. Our community is creating a workforce of the 21st Century."

Plans for the school include weekly field trips designed to help students feel connected, Garrett said. The experiences could include trips to the Walton Arts Center or Crystal Bridges Museum, or students could study with a university professor.

"The charter application asks for innovation," Garrett said. "That's the unique piece."

The district initially will purchase curriculum from a provider, though one has not been selected, Garrett said.

Across the country, enrollment in fully online schools in the 2013-14 school year ranged from 48,358 students in kindergarten through 12th grade in Arizona to 76 students in Alaska, according to a Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning report by the Evergreen Education Group. A new statewide online charter school opened in Maine for the 2014-15 school year.

The firm reported that Arkansas had 1,334 students enrolled the Arkansas Virtual Academy, which is a fully online school.

Evergreen Education Group is a private consulting and advisory firm in Durango, Colo.

For-profit cyber schools developed about 15 years ago, and school districts began to partner with them or develop their own versions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona and Colorado to recapture enrollment, said Michael Barbour, who researches online learning for kindergarten through 12th-grade students.

Other school districts have developed online schools to cater to specific populations of students who were not being served by traditional brick-and-mortar schools, he said.

Barbour is director of doctoral studies for Isabelle Farrington College of Education at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., and a fellow for the National Education Policy Center in Boulder, Colo.

Barbour has found online programs work well when they require students to visit a physical campus weekly or semi-weekly, he said. He suggests keeping class sizes similar to brick-and-mortar classrooms.

"The more students a teacher is responsible for, it lessens the amount of interaction they're able to have on a regular basis," he said.

NW News on 07/26/2015

Print Headline: Fayetteville wants to offer online charter school

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