VCSC plans own virtual school for 2019-20

Tribune-Star/Austen LeakeProgress: The Vigo County School Corp. will look to implement a virtual school option for students housed at Booker T. Washington High School.

The Vigo County School Corp. is starting its own virtual school for 2019-20, with the goal being to regain some of the 367 students here who currently attend other virtual schools.

It would be based out of Booker T. Washington High School, to serve Vigo County students who prefer online learning.

Robin Smith, who has been North Vigo principal, would be the new principal of the alternative school and she will oversee the new virtual program.

Students at the virtual school would be considered Washington students.

Superintendent Rob Haworth announced the new virtual school during a presentation Monday.

The district is aware of 367 students in Vigo County who attend virtual schools. At an average of $6,362 in state funding per student, that represents a loss of about $2.3 million annually in state funding, Haworth said.

If the VCSC operated one, and it could generate 150 students within two years, the district would generate about $1 million per year, he said.

A committee has been working on the project for about six months.

“I’m a firm believer that a classroom and classroom teacher are the best way to educate children,” he said in an interview. “We’re not looking to replace the classroom teacher.”

But for some students, “They have chosen a different option and so we’re trying to meet the market for delivery of educational services by establishing this school,” Haworth said in the interview.

The students in the virtual program could use the Washington facility if they chose, such as for tutoring.

Details are still being finalized, but enrollment for the program is expected to begin within a month, said Tom Balitewicz, VCSC director of student services who has been overseeing the effort.

The district already has used a “credit recovery” program for high school students who may need a few online classes to graduate. The district will use a new vendor, Edmentum, to offer the virtual program as well as credit recovery courses for those who attend the physical high schools.

The district is in the early stages of determining how it will be used part-time by students who attend a traditional high school, Balitewicz said in an interview.

As far as those students who are full-time online, the program will be run primarily by Edmentum, Balitewicz said. The district purchases the services from Edmentum. “They would be our students, but take all their courses through Edmentum, online, from home.”

The district is expected to start promoting the virtual school “in the next month or so,” Balitewicz said.

The district is “trying to be very careful” as it moves in this direction, he said. “We’ve taken our time to develop these ideas.”

The district wants to provide every opportunity for every type of child, Balitewicz said. “It’s important to have that flexibility. They [current Vigo County students enrolled in virtual programs] are going somewhere already. Why not have them go in Vigo County?”

The School Board on Monday established goals for Haworth for 2019-20. They include enrolling at least 25 new students (25 not currently attending VCSC) in the new virtual school and developing a strategy to stabilize the district’s financial situation. Another is for Haworth to meet at least five times per month with community partners to continue positive relationships.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

Sue Loughlin has been a reporter at the Tribune-Star for more than 30 years. She covers general news with a focus on education.