By Nancy Lindsey
K12 Inc., the online instruction program that is administered by Patrick County public schools, has asked the Patrick County School Board to expand the students it serves from about 430 to 830, according to Dr. William Sroufe, division superintendent.
That would almost double the number of students in the “virtual academy” and would mean increased revenue of $740,400, Sroufe told the school board Jan. 14.
Students from all over Virginia are enrolled in Patrick County’s virtual school, which now accepts children in grades K-7. The increased number would also expand the program to eighth-graders.
Patrick is one of only two school divisions in the state currently offering virtual or online education through K12 Inc.; the other is King and Queen County, Sroufe said.
According to an analysis by Dean Gilbert, assistant superintendent, the virtual cost per student is $3,928 and the state provides basic aid of $5,779 per student, for a net addition of $1,851 in state aid per student. That number multiplied by the current 430 virtual students results in a net revenue increase to the county of $795,930.
If enrollment is increased to 830, the virtual cost per student would remain the same but state basic aid would increase and the total net revenue increase ($1,851 multiplied by 830) would be $1,536,330, resulting in increased revenue to the school system of $740,400.
Sroufe said the students are only virtual in the sense that they are learning online, but they are very real people. A group of children from all over Virginia had a “field trip” at Mabry Mill last year, accompanied by 40 to 50 parents, Sroufe said.
The parents’ and kids’ gratitude “made me feel like a rock star,” Sroufe said. “They are so thankful we are running this program.”
He said the virtual school is being administered by only a few people at the central office, including Andrea Cassell and Ann Fulcher.
K12 Inc. hires teachers to carry out instruction and each online student has an educational coach, usually a parent or guardian.
“We have no problem getting students,” Sroufe said.
He said the decision about whether to expand the program needs to be made in the next couple of months, so it can be included in the upcoming school budget.
Sroufe said there is definitely a need for online instruction. He said he has been involved in a charter school, which was set up for kids who may not do well in a traditional public school. This kind of learning is also used by some families who homeschool their children, he said.
Virtual school students are expected to meet Virginia’s educational standards, go through testing like their public school peers, and use educational programs such as Study Island, he said.
Sroufe said he would like to see Patrick County’s virtual school become “its own school,” separate from the county schools and especially Meadows of Dan Elementary, to which it has been “attached” since the program began in the county.
Separating the virtual school from Meadows of Dan would not affect MODE’s accreditation, Sroufe said.
He told the school board that there is a fairly strict selection process with virtual school students having to meet certain criteria.
Blue Ridge District school board member Ronnie Terry, board chairman, said he thought K12 Inc. is “doing a really good job” teaching the students, but also agreed that the online school should be separated from Meadows of Dan.