I-SS hopes to draw home-school students

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Posted: Sunday, June 16, 2013 2:20 pm

Iredell-Statesville Schools is once again expanding its choice options for students and parents.

Beginning next school year, a classroom at the Career Academy and Technical School (CATS) will be designated as the district’s virtual high school. Students who choose to take advantage will have the option of working with teachers at CATS or taking classes from home. The goal is to attract home-school students, or those who are considering a move to charter or private schools.

By state law, if a student spends half their day in public school work, they are officially a public school student. That means for every student who signs up for two virtual classes, I-SS will draw down the entire average daily membership (ADM) cost for that child, while only spending a fraction of that per-pupil expenditure on services provided. Enrolling in three classes allows students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities such as band or JROTC. The hope is to shore up some funding gaps, offer more freedom to students and attract those wary of traditional public school environments.

“This is really out-of-the-box, but I do think this is kind of where the General Assembly is forcing us to go,” I-SS Superintendent Brady Johnson told board of education members during a presentation at the May 6 Committee of the Whole meeting. “This is a business model. It calls for marketing your school system.”

Eventually, I-SS would like to turn the virtual high school into its own stand-alone facility, but is looking for 30 to 40 students in the first go-round this coming fall. There are currently about 1,100 virtual classes taken a year in the district. They present options difficult to offer face-to-face — mandarin Chinese, entrepreneurship and accounting are examples — due to limited resources. Virtual classes can now be taken at all I-SS high schools and a few middle schools, but the new thing next year is a specific center for support at CATS. The support center is planned to be manned by a math, English and science teacher and a counselor should enough people sign up, but Dr. David Blattner, executive director of technology and media services for I-SS, said students would only have to seek guidance if they so choose. They would certainly be encouraged to do so, however.

“We want your child to be successful, so if they’re not being successful, we might ask you to bring them in more,” said Blattner. “But if they’re able to do it away from the school … then we’re saying, ‘Why not let them do that?’”

The idea received unanimous backing from school board members for a trial run next year. Blattner said recent meetings with home-school parents explaining the concept were positive. Some parents expressed concern that I-SS was trying to put home-schooling out of business, but the district said that is not the case.

“Home-school parents are already paying taxes, so they’re taking advantage of something they’re already paying for, so it’s a win-win,” said BOE member Bryan Shoemaker.

The CATS virtual public school will be open to students who also take regular classes, but its main draw will be those who do not use I-SS’ services already. There are 1,400 K-12 students in the district who do not use the public school system.

“How do we market that to those people?” Anna Bonham asked at the May 6 meeting. “We want to pull in the people that aren’t in I-SS.”

For more information, call CATS at 704-978-2791.