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updated: 9/16/2013 10:51 PM

West suburban districts collaborating for online education

Five West suburban schools looking at ways to bring modern learning options into all of their classrooms

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In 2013, many schools already incorporate some form of online learning into everyday instruction, but five West suburban districts are moving forward with plans to offer a more comprehensive online learning program as soon as 2014.

Naperville Unit District 203, Indian Prairie Unit District 204, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, Batavia Unit District 101 and Kaneland Unit District 302 have formed a consortium to study how to provide more digital learning options for their students.

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Even before a consultant hired by the consortium develops a strategic plan for such expanded learning options, District 203 continued on Monday night discussions of a board policy to govern Internet-based and remote learning.

"It's the time to really maximize this opportunity to reach diverse learners in diverse settings," said Kaine Osburn, deputy superintendent.

The policy District 203 board members considered Monday night gives the district latitude to establish a remote educational program that could offer experiences both online and in the classroom and would be customized to meet individual student needs.

Offerings could include online learning, which refers to teacher-led instruction delivered primarily on the Internet, or blended learning, which can be any program that involves some online delivery of curriculum.

The policy, if approved at the board's next meeting Oct. 7, would govern the online consumer education course the district already offers as well as alternative learning arrangements already in place for some students. Osburn said it could be amended later if necessary after the consortium of districts spells out how such digital learning options should be offered.

Chief Academic Officer Jennifer Hester said the five districts are working with Colorado-based Evergreen Education Group, a consulting company that focuses on helping K-12 districts implement online learning. Evergreen will build a plan by the end of the year that will address technology, curriculum and communications for online and blended learning.

Beginning in January, Hester said, each district can decide if it wants to remain in the consortium for rollout of more online learning options or develop programs on its own.

Districts 200 and 204 both began discussions of the new learning models last week, with administrators saying they are excited for opportunities to capitalize on economies of scale.

"We're looking at ways to not only improve what we're already doing but also to expand the course opportunities," said Faith Dahlquist, assistant superintendent of educational services in District 200. "For example, it was hard to find teachers of Mandarin; however, by pooling our resources with other districts, we could find a teacher and have a lot of students participate in a class like that, digitally."

Educators also said offering broader online learning options would give students more opportunities to master material at their own pace.

District 203 will continue discussions of its online and blended education policy Oct. 7, and administrators from several districts said the consortium soon will bring forward an intergovernmental agreement to codify the group's collaboration.

• Daily Herald Staff Writer Justin Kmitch contributed to this report.

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