The White Salmon Valley School District is breaking new ground in the field of online education.
As the public partner in a public-private partnership with Seattle-based Giant Campus of Washington, the local district will serve as administrator of enrollment in Giant Campus' spring semester offering of online technology courses.
The district's board of directors gave the go-ahead on an 12-month contract with Giant Campus--a provider of online technology curriculum to high school students in 26 states--following a formal presentation by Giant Campus representatives at its Dec. 16 business meeting.
Giant Campus' virtual high school, as it's been described, will start classes on Feb. 22 under the auspices of the White Salmon Valley School District.
Enrollment in the online classes (limited to six electives in this initial semester's offering) is open and free to all public and private high school students, but is also available to students in home school situations for fee; the last day to register for classes is Feb. 17.
All courses--from Web and Video Game Design to Computer Aided Design, to 3-D Art and Computer Programming--will be taught by state-certificated teachers in Giant Campus' employ. (Visit giantcampuswa.com for course titles and descriptions.)
For the 18-week spring semester, company officials are hoping for an enrollment of 300 students. Their goal, however, is to have 1,000 students enrolled in online courses by the start of fall semester.
Columbia High School and White Salmon Academy students can enroll in up to two online electives, at a cost of $50 per class, under the school district's agreement with Giant Campus, said CHS Principal Malcolm Dennis. For each course completed, a Columbia High student will receive a .5 elective credit.
"The kids are really excited," school director Paul Mosbrucker said of the opportunities this partnership offers students to take tech-based elective courses in the CHS computer lab that are in high demand but aren't ordinarily available. (Fifteen CHS students to date have enrolled in spring semester courses, according to a Giant Campus spokesman.)
Students from outside the local district who wish to sign up for an online class must be released by their home school district for that period of the day; during that period they essentially will become students of Columbia High School.
"In order to enroll, the home school district of the enrolling student will give up a portion of that student's FTE funding from the state, and will do an intra-district transfer of that student to our district for one class period," Dennis said.
The district, as part of its responsibilities, will keep track of online enrollment and produce transcripts at the end of a semester that will be sent to an enrolled student's home distict.
"In exchange for our part--the official awarding of high school credit--the district will receive a small percentage of the transferred FTE for each student enrolled," Dennis explained. "Giant Campus will keep the remaining funds, as they developed the courses, hired the teachers and are advertising across the state."
To make the partnership copacetic with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Giant Campus is being required to apply to OSPI's Department of Digital Learning for approval as an online provider of educational services.
"As online learning has taken off nationally, quality control laws have gone into effect at the state level," noted Chris Dukelow, Giant Campus' chief financial officer who negotiated the agreement with the White Salmon school district.
Dukelow said Giant Campus expects to receive state approval as an online education provider by the end of the 2009-10 school year. Until then, the partnership will operate under an exception that will allow the White Salmon district to grant credit to students and Giant Campus to receive state funding.
A Giant Campus official initially contacted Supt. Jerry Lewis about a partnership last year because the White Salmon school district offered two advantages: It's small but has experience with online high school curriculum.
"We love the fact that Columbia High School is at the forefront of what we call the hybrid education model, where students take their core credit classes at school and their elective courses online," Dukelow said. "We believe this will be the model going forward."