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updated: 3/19/2013 1:00 AM

Naperville District 203 community wary of online charter school

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Naperville Unit District 203 officials are about a month away from deciding the fate of a proposed online virtual charter school, but the community is already speaking out against it.

A majority of community members and teachers speaking out during Monday evening's public hearing pleaded for board members to vote against a proposal to create the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley, a virtual charter school that would serve 18 West suburban school districts, including District 203.

Board members held the public hearing to hear the proposal put forth by the St. Charles-based nonprofit Virtual Learning Solutions. If allowed to open this fall, the group would provide a Web-based curriculum for students in kindergarten through high school. If approved, Virginia-based education corporation K12 will likely run the day-to-day operations of the online school.

K12 Vice President Zach Wasilew told board members the school would provide choice for students who cannot or don't perform well in a typical classroom setting.

"We're talking about a charter school that will provide education for grades kindergarten through 12," Wasilew told board members. "This is an online schooling option, so students are learning primarily over the computer, interacting with their teacher and other students on the Internet in an online learning system provided by the curriculum provider."

Wasilew estimated, if approved, the school would likely be an option for between 50 and 75 district students at a cost of about $8,000 per student, $4,000 less than the per-student costs incurred by the district.

The model, he said, also provides students with the ability to learn at the time that's best for them and at their pace with an individualized learning plan and online access to teachers and other resources.

Residents Karen and Robert Roland praised the plan, calling it a "wonderful system" and "an opportunity" to be part of the future of education. They were in the minority, however, as several community members and teachers spoke out against funding a for-profit corporation with questionable results in other areas of the country.

"While there is a place for computer-assisted education in the classroom, approval of an online charter school should not be rushed through," said Carol Tritschler. "Largely online learning eliminates socialization, developing collaboration and teamwork and self-definition."

Carol Higgins, a special-education teacher at Lincoln Junior High School, said children need contact.

"The human element of Naperville schools cannot be replaced with an online program," Higgins said. "Every child needs to have someone, in the morning, say, 'Hey! Good morning. How are you doing?' You can't get that in some online program."

District officials also peppered Wasilew with questions ranging from the program's proposed curriculum to financing to extracurricular activities. Wasilew was unable to answer several questions and promised to reply to them in writing by Thursday to give board members time to prepare for their next meeting on April 1.

Board President Mike Jaensch said the district now has 30 days to decide if they will approve or deny the proposal, in which case the charter school's governing board would appeal the decision to the Illinois State Charter School Commission. Jaensch said a third option would be for all 18 districts to agree to let the state commission decide whether to approve the online program.

The entire proposal can be found online at http://www.naperville203.org/assets/ILVCS_FRVProposal.pdf

District 203 board members will deliberate the proposal on April 1 and expect to make a decision on April 15.

The other 17 districts debating the proposal include Indian Prairie Unit District 204, Elgin U-46, East Aurora, West Aurora, St. Charles District 303, and Oswego.

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