PSBA Bulletin September/October 2021 September/October 2021 - Page 21

THE RISE OF DISTRICT-BASED ONLINE LEARNING PROGRAMS
Even with overall enrollments projected to be much lower in the coming year , district-offered cyber options , with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous instruction , have quickly become the expectation rather than the exception . Staffing such programs comes into question . Districts can outsource online content , but that diminishes revenue regained from for-profit cyber charter schools and takes away from the home district marketing advantage .
West Chester Area School District had been offering blended learning at the secondary level since 2011 , with students having an online component for some elective courses . Plans to launch the WC Cyber Program started to take shape in 2019 and were propelled into a full K-12 cyber option as a result of the pandemic . A fund balance that was created for a new brick-and-mortar building was tapped early to fill the staffing gap with West Chester teachers . When students return in the fall , the cyber program will remain intact for grades 6-12 with West Chester ’ s teachers providing instruction .
“ Going into next year , I don ’ t think we have a single teacher teaching more than two sections of cyber , so in that way they ’ re still very tied to their home building ,” explained West Chester Superintendent Dr . Robert Sokolowski . “ That ’ s one thing thematically about our program , we really try to convey to parents that although you ’ re in cyber , you ’ re still a part of our schools . That ’ s still your community and you ’ re welcome to get involved in all the extracurriculars that school has to offer .”

TEACHERS ARE KEY

TO OFFERING STUDENTS A STABLE CONNECTION TO A DISTRICT-RUN CYBER PROGRAM .
Jefferson-Morgan School District follows a similar staffing model . “ We pay our staff to teach these [ online ] courses ,” said Orr . “ So instead of an outside agency , we have an agreement with our union , depending on the class or what is involved with the class we pay [ our teachers ].”
Teachers are key to offering students a stable connection to a district-run cyber program . As important as maintaining strong relationships with cyber families , is the district ’ s employee relationships in the rapidly growing world of online education .
“ One of the things that has really helped our program is the approach with our teachers association ,” Orr explained . “ It really has been a partnership and we involved them from the very beginning and all through the process . We wanted them to be partners .”
September / October 2021 PSBA Bulletin 19