Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 appears to be one step closer to forming a virtual learning consortium with four other area school districts.
The school board expressed interest Wednesday in supporting the start of a second phase of planning for the consortium, which would include Naperville Unit District 203, Indian Prairie Unit District 204, Batavia Unit District 101 and Kaneland Unit District 302.
Faith Dahlquist, assistant superintendent of educational services, said the districts have been working together since September to create a program that will offer high school students both online-only courses and blended learning courses, which will have online components coupled with face-to-face time with a teacher.
"We want to get to both. Right now we've really been working on that online part," she said, adding that the districts are hoping to offer 10 online courses at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.
Those courses include U.S. history, consumer economics, government, geometry, algebra I, English for credit recovery and electives like Mandarin and computer coding.
Dahlquist said the district's cost to take part in the second phase of planning for the consortium is $88,825. That includes $19,200 for professional services, which would go toward a Colorado-based consultant that eventually will be replaced with a consortium director, she said.
Details about the curriculum adoption process -- such as establishing a common learning management system across all districts, determining a way to measure if the program is successful and selecting devices that can implement the program -- are expected to be worked out during the second phase of planning, Dahlquist said.
Board members asked numerous questions about the cost, an intergovernmental agreement with the other districts and the future of the program, but everyone seemed to be on board with moving forward with the plan.
"There is an initial investment, clearly, in the beginning. But the potential for what 21st-century learning could look like 10 years down the road here is significant," Superintendent Brian Harris said.
Board member Brad Paulsen said he is excited at the possibility of expanding the program to the elementary and middle schools in a few years.
"It's easy to get hung up on these immediate things. The value, I think, is way down the road," he said.
District 200 is slated to have 52 seats available in online courses for fall 2014. Dahlquist said the courses likely will attract a variety of students, from those who are homebound with an illness to those who want to take another elective, but can't fit it into their current schedule.
Two existing teachers from District 200 will be selected to train for the program and dedicate one class period of their day to an online class, Dahlquist said.
Harris said other districts already have expressed interest in joining the consortium, but the five districts have declined to add them for now. He is hopeful, however, that more districts can join once the consortium is established, which in turn, will create new revenue.
For now, if all five districts agree to move ahead with the second phase of planning, the start up costs will be split evenly. The board is set to vote on the second phase of planning later this month.