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Schools seek waiver to boost online courses : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Schools seek waiver to boost online courses
Public hearing scheduled as part of July 14 school board meeting

by Natalie Stevens


The Oswego School District has invited community members to a public hearing during the July school board meeting to share their opinions on a waiver that could impact online learning.

The waiver, if approved, would seek to reduce the daily instruction class time of students who participate in online courses through the school district. Community members are being asked if they think the district should grant or deny a proposal for the waiver.

"This is something that we are looking at with regard to the flexibility for our students," explained Dr. Judy Minor, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning.

Currently students have to be on site for five hours for current statutory funding requirements, but the waiver would seek an exception to that requirement. Minor said the waiver could potentially allow students to take up to 40 percent of their coursework - or about two online courses - through virtual education programs.

"The trick to that though is to make sure the student is still able to qualify for General State Aid (GSA), which is our funding resource," Minor said.

School districts receive GSA based on a per pupil daily attendance. If the waiver were to move forward and be approved, there would be no decrease in GSA funding because the waiver would seek an exception to the current funding requirements.

The online learning program is specifically for high school students and Minor said all students are able to participate.

Online learning began in the district with a pilot program in the summer of 2013 after a study during the 2012-13 school year and was approved by the Board of Education in December 2013 for four courses during the upcoming 2014-15 school year. Those courses include: contemporary American literature (grade 12), health education (grade 9), environmental science (grades 9-12) and consumer education (grade 12), although consumer education will not run this school year due to lack of enrollment.

Minor said the district wanted to "start small" with the online courses, but is expecting to present several other courses to the board later this year.

"We're looking for more courses that could be taken as part of an online option," Minor said. "But we want to make sure we have the teaching capacity as well as the student interest capacity."

Minor added the district wants to make sure any online offerings "parallel" existing classes.

"Some classes might be better suited for online learning, whereas a two-period AP biology or some kind of world language course might be better sitting face-to-face," Minor said. "We're looking at types of courses."

She said working with the department chairs and getting teacher feedback has been "really essential."

The online virtual courses are different from the credit recovery courses that the district has used for several years, Minor said. The online courses would offer students the chance to take a class without sitting face-to-face in a traditional mode for regular class credit.

Of course, there will be guidelines for the teaching and learning of the online classes.

"As part of our waiver with GSA, they're working to insert some parameters, to have a tiered system of support," Minor explained. "They want to make sure that (the students) are not just kind of left there on their own."

There are two options for online learning being investigated. One would function more as a traditional classroom, where students would go online at a particular day or time. The other, which Minor said would offer more flexibility, would allow students to log on and complete the coursework on their own schedule - like over the weekend.

"The key there is that there are benchmarks so the students can't log in and finish a 10 week course in two weeks," said Minor.

And the waiver would open the door for that increased flexibility as the school district looks to grow their online class offerings.

Minor said she believed the Oswego School District was one of the first to consider the waiver. The waiver itself would be in place for five years, which would give the district time to see how it worked.

"We would document plans and minutes and provide that information to the state," Minor said of the online learning.

Right now the district is awaiting the findings from the summer school courses, which recently finished up its first semester. The online classes offered during the summer include health and consumer education, according to summer class registration documents.

"We're looking to gather data both in terms of student success as well as student feedback," Minor said. "We tweaked it a bit for the second semester so students had more support for online learning - that's a vital piece. Depending on the course and depending on the student, an online class might be the right choice or might not."

Minor said the online learning program has the potential to continue to grow. The program started out as a pilot before receiving board approval for several courses for the upcoming school year, has been heard by the teaching and learning advisory committee and it has now come back to the board and to the public for their input.

"It's an effort that will provide our students the flexibility to learn in a different way to set them up for college and a career," said Minor.

All interested community members are invited to the public hearing to offer their thoughts as to whether the board should move forward or not with an application for the waiver.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 14 in the community room of Oswego East High School.

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