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updated: 1/23/2014 3:10 PM

District 200 moving ahead with online courses

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Students in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 will have an opportunity next school year to take online classes through a virtual learning consortium that district officials will form with at least two other area districts.

The school board voted 6-1 Wednesday to start a second phase of planning for the consortium. The goal is to create a program that will offer high school students both online-only courses starting this fall and blended learning courses in the future, which will have online components coupled with face-to-face time with a teacher.

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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 such as Mandarin and computer coding.

Jim Mathieson was the only board member to oppose moving forward with the consortium. He said he was torn because he wanted to see the consortium be part of a bigger technology plan.

Officials from Naperville Unit District 203, Indian Prairie Unit District 204, Batavia Unit District 101 and Kaneland Unit District 302 have been discussing the idea since September.

District 203 already has agreed to move on to the second phase of planning and District 204 is scheduled to vote on the issue next week. Earlier this month, District 302 backed out of the consortium due to the start up cost, which was proposed to be split evenly across all five districts.

District 200 Superintendent Brian Harris said it's possible District 101 also may abandon the consortium for the same reason.

Even if both districts leave, Faith Dahlquist, assistant superintendent of educational services, said the district's cost to take part in the second phase of planning for the consortium will remain at the originally proposed amount of about $88,000. Dahlquist said the amount is able to stay the same because the districts have agreed to bring on a consortium director later in the year than originally planned.

Additional costs throughout next year, however, have changed slightly. The costs will be proportional to the size of each district, which results in District 200 taking on 25 percent of the cost of training teachers with the learning management system and online teaching, along with the cost of professional services and consultant travel, which would go toward a Colorado-based consultant that eventually will be replaced with the consortium director.

Harris clarified that the consortium costs are not "an add to," but instead an "in lieu of" item in the district's budget.

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. The courses are expected to 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.

District 200 originally was slated to have 52 seats available in online courses for fall 2014, but with fewer districts in the consortium that number has increased to 65, Dahlquist said. Despite that change, the proposal for the district to select two existing teachers to train for the program remains. The plan is to have each teacher dedicate one class period of their day to an online class.

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