Alabama County to Consider Expanding Through Online Education

Alabama's Baldwin County School District is considering handling an overcrowding crisis by introducing a full-time online education program, Sally Pearsall Ericson of reports. School board members discussed the feasibility of setting up a virtual high school with Superintendent last week, as expanding digitally allows the district to increase its ability to serve more students without hefty infrastructure and staff costs.

Superintendent Alan Lee presented a proposal for what could be the first such school in the entire state of Alabama. Called Baldwin County Digital Renaissance High School, it would be operated with support from the Troy Access Support Center.

In a letter accompanying the proposal, Lee said the district is experiencing an unprecedented rate of student growth and is thus in a good position to lead the entire state on online education. The benefits would include providing a completely customizable, personalized learning experience for every student as well as prepare them for online courses they might encounter while in college. Increasingly, colleges are turning away from the traditional approach in favor of technology-assisted instructional paradigm, and attending a virtual school could give Baldwin students a leg-up in preparation.

Students who are at risk of dropping out may be able to stay on track with the online learning option, said board member Angie Swiger. Also, Lee said, many students who want a faster path to graduation could take the online courses over the summer break and graduate early.

The introductory letter noted that 31 states and Washington, D.C., already have full-time online schools, with about 275,000 students enrolled in 2011-12, according to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

A virtual high school could also appeal to Alabama's homeschooling parents. Those who wish to do so will be able to enroll their kids into online courses and earn high school diplomas from accredited schools.

In total, about 200 Baldwin-area students are currently being taught at home by their parents. Lee noted that eventually the high school could be opened up to enrollment from parts of the state outside Baldwin, although he noted that this possibility is several steps from being a reality.

"We could potentially enroll students across the state," Lee said, but for now, the plan before the school board is only for residents of Baldwin County.

Candidates for the virtual school must also participate in the system's Digital Renaissance program, meaning they must have 24-hour access to a school-system-owned MacBook Air notebook computer.

Baldwin County Digital Renaissance staff will monitor students' attendance, course work, grades and proctoring of exams, according to the proposal.

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