They have been offering online courses since 2006, but now the South East Cornerstone Public School Division is expanding horizons to build a virtual school within the region that will probably accommodate and assist over 500 students in the fairly near future.
Lynn Little, superintendent of education for Cornerstone, told the trustees attending an April 19 meeting in the division's central office in Weyburn, that when classes and courses were first offered online back in 2006, there were just 35 students registered.
“We have 450 now, although some are repeats,” said Little, pointing to the impressive growth in popularity. There are about 8,100 students currently enrolled in classes in 38 facilities in the Cornerstone division, with about 2,150 enrolled in Grades 10 to 12.
“We are streamlining the system and in the future we should be in a position where we can hire teachers to instruct subject-specific online courses from Grades 10 through 12,” Little said. The classes would all be credit courses leading to a Grade 12 diploma and would provide consistency in course and subject deliveries.
Trustee Len Williams said he wondered if this might be extended to include other school divisions, especially those that are nearby since “we might not need a stand-alone virtual school, it might prove to be efficient use of funds and instructional time to expand it.”
He said he'd like to hear what the Ministry of Education has to say about the proposal since “they're paying the bill.”
Marc Casavant, director of education for Cornerstone, said the local division's concept is not one that could include the whole province, but noted that since the province dropped the correspondence school model three years ago, there has been no real province-wide replacement for it.
“There would be a need for a consistent curriculum for sure,” said Williams.
Casavant said Alberta's provincial education department is exploring the same avenues.
Trustee Audrey Trombley said “government is saying it's our responsibility to provide a way of co-ordinating something that we're already providing, so it's an opportunity for our superintendents to assure these classes are offered every year. I can see where it can benefit students, even in our larger comprehensive schools, who might want to take some elective classes but can't due to scheduling conflicts during regular school hours.”
Board chairwoman Carol Flynn said “if this moves forward, it will give us an opportunity to hire master teachers who we can monitor and establish certain expectations. If we got an online tutorial service on a contract basis, we'd still have to be accountable even if we didn't have control of the teacher input. But I like the idea because students can go online at any time and pick up what they need or might have missed.”
Williams said that if courses were available from outside the division, then that meant Cornerstone students could also access courses offered by other divisions, perhaps courses that might not be available in the local public school division.
“I would encourage you to raise those types of questions with the Minister of Education,” said Casavant.
Trustee Harold Laich said that while he appreciated online capabilities and outreach, “the success rate so far is not encouraging.”
Flynn said that was a fact that needed addressing and when it was all said and done, “students still need to provide accountability.”
After the discussion concluded, a motion was approved to proceed with the virtual school concept within the Cornerstone division, as presented.
Earlier in the meeting, the trustees approved a motion to maintain the current student to teacher ratio at 14.74:1 for the next academic year.
“What are the implications then, are we still subsidizing some schools?” asked Williams.”
“Yes,” said Casavant, “we are subsidizing the smaller schools at about the same rate as we were last year.”
“It's a financial subsidy, not a teacher subsidy, though,” said Trombley.
Now that the provincial budget has been approved and Cornerstone's funding is assured, the trustees approved a motion to allocate various amounts to enhance curriculum in some areas so that proposed projects for learning supports could move forward.