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updated: 1/14/2014 12:00 AM

Kaneland leaves online-learning cooperative venture

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The Kaneland school board decided Monday to drop out of a five-district group planning joint online and blended online-and-classroom instruction.

It did so with regret, according to the motion. The main issue was whether it was worthwhile, at this point, to spend the $96,000 it would have cost to continue with the second phase of the effort. That included the $85,000 each district would have to pay, plus some fees based on the enrollment of each district. Phase II would include hiring someone to run the consortium and start classes in the fall.

"I can't support it. ... I think we should look for other opportunities," said board member Teresa Witt, because the district didn't have the money "lying around." She mentioned programs cut and class-size increases made during the rough economic times since 2008 as higher priorities to address. "Maybe we first need to beef up our own AP classes and Capstone courses," Witt said.

Board member Tony Valente questioned why the proposed consortium had picked rather standard courses, including history, government, consumer education, health and credit-makeup English classes, for the first year. He said he had hoped the courses offered would be electives that Kaneland doesn't offer due to its smaller enrollment.

Kaneland has the least students of the five districts. The others are Indian Prairie Unit District 204 in Aurora, Naperville Unit District 203, Wheaton Warrenville District 200 and Batavia Unit District 101.

Superintendent Jeff Schuler agreed with Valente. But he said the more-basic courses were chosen for ease of getting the system up and running quickly, with curriculum already in hand.

Board members Gale Pavlak and Peter Lopatin voted against leaving the group. Lopatin questioned why the timeline for the decision was so "aggressive." Erika Schlichter, the district's curriculum and assessment coordinator, said some of the other districts were under pressure from constituents to come up with something fast.

The consortium grew out of the failed attempt in early 2013 by a St. Charles-based group to start an online charter school that would have taken students from 18 school districts in DuPage, Cook, Kane, Kendall, Will, DeKalb and McHenry counties. All 18 districts denied applications for that school; the school appealed their decisions to the state's charter school commission but then withdrew its plans. The state legislature put a one-year moratorium on applications for new online charter schools, but that moratorium ends this spring.

School officials were critical of the specific charter school proposed, not of the idea of online and blended online-and-classroom learning.

Schuler said such programs would expand opportunities for schoolchildren, including allowing individualized pace and serving students who don't do well in, or can't be in, a classroom all the time.

"It (Monday's vote) is not a sign that we're not going to support blended learning," Schlichter said.

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