Students may soon have the ability to earn diplomas from their comfort of their own homes.
In response to changing times in public education—and trying to prevent students from leaving their district to attend cyber charter schools— leaders had a lengthy discussion at a B-W School Board meeting on Wednesday night in regard to running their own online academic program.
Dr. John D. Wilkinson, the school district's assistant superintendent of secondary education, presented the idea for the program to the board, saying that he envisions Baldwin-Whitehall as offering only a "hybrid" model in the near future—one that would allow students to take some classes online and some inside actual district buildings.
District Superintendent Dr. Lawrence C. Korchnak said that families of around 60 district students are choosing to attend charter schools instead of Baldwin-Whitehall School District schools.
While some of those students attend actual brick-and-mortar charter schools, such as the in , Wilkinson said that many others have chosen cyber (online) schools such as Agora Cyber Charter School and Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School.
Wilkinson sees a Baldwin-Whitehall online program as a way to keep public education dollars inside of the district rather than sending them to charter schools.
"If these are our kids, if they live within our district walls, why are they not coming here?" Wilkinson said on Wednesday night.
Wilkinson stressed that the idea for an online program in Baldwin-Whitehall is not his alone, mentioning Baldwin High Principal Kevin J. O'Toole and district Guidance Supervisor as other administrators who see merit in the idea.
"This is not a way to farm out jobs," Wilkinson said. "This is a way to bring our kids back in.
"Our challenge is really to find out why these students are disengaged, why do they not want to be part of us and how do we re-engage them? Are there opportunies for us to develop, for lack of a better term, 'B-W Online'?"
Wilkinson said that he and other district administrators will conduct more research into what it would take to run an online program in Baldwin-Whitehall and present that to the board at a later time.
Creating the program in a "hybrid" fashion creates certain obstacles, Wilkinson acknowledged, such as when and how to transport students to and from their homes and district buildings.
"Can we have a student come, say, first and second period and go home third period, and maybe come back eighth period?" Wilkinson offered as a hypothetical. "Probably."
Determining how many courses to offer is another item that needs more research, but Korchnak said at , "As long as we create the curriculum, as long as we establish the rigor, then, they (enrolled students) would get a Baldwin-Whitehall diploma, not some diploma for being part of some school somewhere else."
"Can we provide individual plans for every kid that wants to do this?" Wilkinson asked himself on Wednesday. "Yeah, we can.
"I am a believer that we can provide an array of courses, meet their needs, provide better career planning (than charter schools), guidance planning and a Baldwin-Whitehall diploma that—I'm of the opinion—holds more weight than a cyber charter school's somewhere."
The board was mostly supportive of the idea, but board member Nancy Sciulli DiNardo expressed concern that students coming in and out buildings would create security issues.
Fellow board member Kevin J. Fischer applauded the idea. "These are the types of new ideas that this board has been longing for to have brought forward," Fischer said.
Added board President John B. Schmotzer, "It's exciting to hear that we are being proactive."
Thoughts on online classes in Baldwin-Whitehall? Cyber charter schools in general? Share them in the comments section below.
And check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch later on Thursday for more odds and ends from Wednesday night's school board meeting.