Archive for Thursday, September 30, 2004

Enrollment increasing for BLVS

Despite more competition, virtual school reaches top enrollment figure

September 30, 2004

They must be doing it right.

In the seven years since the Basehor-Linwood School District founded the first virtual program in Kansas, similar programs have arisen in five other school districts. The new competition has made it tougher for virtual programs to enroll more students.

At least that's the case for most programs with the exception of Basehor-Linwood's.

For the seventh straight year, the Basehor-Linwood Virtual School has seen its enrollment blossom from the year before. This year, the on-line school that provides students an alternative means of public education has 377 students -- an increase of 14 from the year before -- enrolled in its program.

The tally is the highest figure to date for the program, which has seen its enrollment increase gradually since year one when 63 students took classes from home via their computers.

"We've maintained an enrollment of over 300 for more than four years now," said Virtual School director Brenda DeGroot.

The enrollment numbers place the virtual school as the third-largest school in the district, behind only Basehor-Linwood High School and Basehor Elementary School.

There was once a time when less-than-reputable virtual programs were trying to enroll new students in shopping malls. There's no such need for the Basehor-Linwood program, which state education officials have constantly used in past years as a model for other programs.

Since the Basehor-Linwood program was founded, other districts have tried to capitalize on similar success. There are now virtual programs in Wichita, Elkhart, Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Lawrence.

"It's definitely been a team effort," De Groot said. "That's the success of the program. From teacher to administrators, everyone has a huge stake in seeing this program succeed."

Just last year, the Kansas Department of Education consulted with officials from the school district and virtual school in helping produce regulations for other virtual programs in the state.

"That was huge last year," De Groot said. "That was the stamp of approval we'd been waiting for."

The success of the program hasn't been just cosmetic, either. It has translated into real benefits to the school district at large.

The Basehor-Linwood virtual program has provided the school district with an additional $1.5 million in funding.

After expenses such as computer rentals, textbooks and salaries, some money is left over which can be applied toward the overall district operation.

Don Swartz, school district director of building operations, said the addition of the virtual school to the district has helped administrators fund 100 percent of teacher health insurance premiums, contribute more money toward employee retirement plans and offer higher salary increases.

Also, the virtual school provides teachers another outlet to make more money. The school has 32 teachers on staff and the educators are paid $4,000 per course they teach. For a school district that loses teachers each year to higher paying districts, the potential bonus money for teaching an on-line class with the virtual program might help retain employees.

"Whereas without it, it might be different," Swartz said.

The virtual program has also aided in the technological proficiency of the district. Because teaching and coursework are completed via the Internet, keeping up with new technology is vital to sustaining the program. The effects of maintaining the technological pace has trickled down to the rest of the district.

"If we do it for the virtual school, we do it for the rest of the students in the district," De Groot said.

DeGroot said all of the students enrolled in the virtual program are Kansas residents; approximately half comprise home-school students, with the remainder coming from students who have found the traditional public school setting "is just not a fit."

"The reasons for each of them are different," she said.

Funding for the students enrolled in the program comes from their original school districts, not from taxpayers in the Basehor-Linwood district, school officials said.

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