Rogers School District to offer online program

Rogers Public Schools Administration Building.
Rogers Public Schools Administration Building.

ROGERS -- The School District is launching its own online program, largely in hopes of attracting families that otherwise would home-school their children.

The School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved moving forward with the program in conjunction with Red Comet, an organization that offers online courses for credit and is authorized to do so by the Arkansas Department of Education. Courses will be taught by teachers accredited by Arkansas.

Fairview principal chosen

Laura Quillen was announced Tuesday as the first principal of Fairview Elementary School, which is under construction on West Garrett Road and is set to open in August.

Quillen has worked for the Rogers School District for 22 of her 26 years in education, including the past seven as principal of Reagan Elementary. She has served on numerous district-level committees to advise on curriculum, boundaries and administrator evaluation. She earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Arkansas in 2006, according to a district news release.

The district received 26 applications for the Fairview principal job from Arkansas and neighboring states. Quillen will continue as principal at Reagan Elementary until she shifts full-time to the Fairview job some time this spring, according to Roger Hill, assistant superintendent for human resources.

Source: Staff report

District administrators will complete implementation details and prepare for student enrollment, which could begin as early as this spring, Superintendent Marlin Berry said. The program will be for students in grades six through 12.

Red Comet has offered online courses for credit since 1999. It offers more than 175 self-paced high school courses. Its strongest presence is in Washington state, where nearly 25 percent of the state's public high schools use it, according to Red Comet's website.

Parents sometimes tell the district they're withdrawing their kids to home-school them, and the online program is an opportunity to give those parents some help, Berry said.

"So this is an online way students can still get credits and keep moving forward, because many times those home-schooled kids come back to us and we want to make sure they're on target to graduate," he said.

Students enrolled in the program would be eligible to participate in all extracurricular and athletic activities.

The district would receive the same amount of money from the state for each child enrolled in the online program as it would for any other student enrolled in the schools. That figure this school year is $6,781 per student. Some percentage of that will go to Red Comet, though that figure has yet to be negotiated, Berry said.

State data show the number of home-schooled children living in the Rogers School District rose from 531 during the 2011-12 academic year to 720 in 2016-17, a 35 percent increase in just five years. Benton County as a whole saw an increase of 38 percent over the same period.

Virtual education, meanwhile, continues to gain in popularity across Arkansas. Two statewide charter schools -- Arkansas Virtual Academy and Arkansas Connections Academy -- enrolled more than 3,500 students combined as of October. The Fayetteville School District launched its own virtual school in 2016; it has more than 200 students enrolled in grades four through 12.

Angela Borkowski of Rogers enrolled her daughter, Julia, in Arkansas Connections Academy in 2016. Julia, a ninth-grader, had been home-schooled her entire life up until then.

The virtual school provides Julia structure and holds her accountable, Borkowski said. It also provides a great degree of flexibility, such that Julia has time to work twice a week in a veterinarian's office and pursue an interest in acting.

Borkowski said she agrees with the district's decision to delve into the online realm because it offers an academic option free from the social pressures that come with a traditional school.

"It gives the kids more freedom to be themselves, the person they truly can be or want to be," Borkowski said. "You don't have to worry about dressing up or looking a certain way."

The district can have as many students enrolled in the online program as are willing to participate without any negative impact to the district, Berry said.

Berry added he likes the program's open-enrollment dates, meaning a student can start at any time and doesn't have to wait for the beginning of a traditional semester.

This is not the first time Rogers has explored offering an online program of classes. Former Superintendent Janie Darr and her administration studied the possibility in 2015, but nothing materialized from the effort.

NW News on 01/16/2019

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