Archive for Thursday, April 1, 2004

Pioneering school influencing programs statewide

April 1, 2004

If you have a question, who better to pose it to than an expert?

That's essentially what the Kansas Board of Education did when it consulted three school districts, Basehor-Linwood included, for help in determining regulations for on-line learning.

"We met with three school districts where virtual schools have been established for quite a while," said Alexa Pochowski, board of education assistant commissioner. "Basehor-Linwood is certainly a pioneer, and we wanted to use their expertise."

In March, the board of education unanimously approved guidelines for virtual schools in Kansas.

Virtual schools offer an alternative to the traditional public school system. Students -- home school, at risk or otherwise -- take classes, complete coursework and tests on-line via the Internet.

Helping to determine those guidelines were educators and administrators from the Basehor-Linwood Virtual School, which in 1998, became the first school of its kind ounded in Kansas.

As Pochowski and state board of education members said, the school is a leading authority on virtual schools, or "e-learning," and is routinely sought by the state for consultation when considering the future of virtual programs.

Basehor-Linwood superintendent Jill Hackett said the virtual school is an integral part of the school district and that administrators were honored that the school was chosen to help shape guidelines of similar programs.

"I was extremely pleased Basehor-Linwood was selected to help draft those guidelines," Hackett said.

"It's quite a distinction for Basehor-Linwood to have that particular program in the district."

She also praised Brenda DeGroot, virtual school director and one of the architects for the program's six-year run of success, for her work in aiding on-line learning locally and across the state.

In turn, DeGroot said the virtual school's success and state recognition shouldn't be placed at the feet of one person but the entire school staff.

"Without the staff that I'm so fortunate to work with, from the teachers to the office staff, none of this would have been possible," she said. "It's taken all of us to put together a school as successful as ours."

Virtual schools didn't rise to prominence in Kansas until the late 90s.

In 1998, when Basehor-Linwood founded its program, none existed in Kansas and only two nationwide, in Florida and Alaska.

However, after Basehor-Linwood started its school, other districts began following suit as well, recognizing the advantages virtual schools offer such as being a low-cost program, raising additional funding and offering another educational opportunity.

Much of the blueprint for new on-line schools was taken from Basehor-Linwood's program. School districts across Kansas now have virtual programs.

"Basehor-Linwood was a pioneer that helped start this movement," DeGroot said.

"We definitely have been established as a recognized program."

While many of those school districts offer a quality education, there are some that have strayed from the pack, DeGroot said.

Uncharted guidelines allowed some virtual programs to use non-certified teachers, offer no support or technological staff and offered little communication between the school and its students and parents.

"There weren't any regulations," DeGroot said. "It was almost too loose."

Pochowski agreed and said the board of education felt it was important to ensure "the rigors and expectations of students, whether they're sitting in a classroom or at a computer, are the same."

With the approved regulations Basehor-Linwood helped produce, schools must now comply with guidelines making them even better educational options for students, Pochowski added.

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