Wauwatosa School District to open online academy

Feb. 19, 2013

The Wauwatosa School District is planning to launch a virtual school in the fall, and is seeking to attract students statewide, Dennis Mahony, the district's virtual program administrator, said this week.

The Wauwatosa Virtual Academy will be school for students in grades six through 12, pitched not only to Wauwatosa students seeking online learning, but also students elsewhere in the state.

Representatives of the school, including Mahony, will hold information sessions at the Onalaska Public Library on March 7, the La Crosse Public Library on March 9, the Chippewa Falls Public Library on March 14 and Eau Claire's L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library on March 16.

All of the communities are in the western part of the state.

"If you look at other parts of the state, they're pretty well represented with virtual schools in that area, and they've been there for a while. I look at this as an area that maybe not a lot of attention has been paid to, and I'd like to give it some attention," Mahony said.

There are 29 public virtual schools in the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, many of them in the eastern or central regions.

In School Board discussions this fall, a virtual school was considered a way to keep Wauwatosa students in the district, but also a way to attract students from other districts into Wauwatosa schools - and along with them, their public education dollars.

The school will be tuition-free, though for each student from outside the city enrolled, the district will collect about two-thirds of the tax funding allotted for the student, Mahony said.

"Virtual education is going to expand. It's going to expand not only out in the state, but I think it's going to expand here in Wauwatosa, and there's certainly a cost … (but) some of those funds can be used toward - and I'm guessing pretty quickly used toward - adding additional courses for students here," he said.

"Last year alone, we had multiple students, due to illness, who couldn't come to a school, and it really is wonderful to be able to offer a full or partial schedule and know that it's not going to be something that's additional cost the taxpayers will pick up."

Wauwatosa students attending the virtual school will be fully enrolled in it, not simply attending for a course or two, Mahony said. Exceptions will be made for students with medical needs, credit recovery for students who are behind and course conflict, he said.

For students interested in band and orchestra, "we're gonna try to make that happen," he said.

Documentation about the school describes it as offering a "comprehensive curriculum, including Advanced Placement courses and a wide variety of electives." It will comply with all Wisconsin graduation requirements, featuring "a full middle and high school curriculum aligned to both state and Common Core standards," according to the statement.

State-licensed teachers will be available online 24 hours a day Monday through Friday, with technical support available 24/7.

The district is creating the school in partnership with Advanced Academics, a for-profit company that will provide some teachers in combination with the district, as the program grows. All the teachers will be certified by the state, Mahony said.

Mahony said 28 families have expressed interest. Information sessions in Wauwatosa will be held on four Saturdays: Feb 23, March 9, March 23, and April 6. All the sessions will start at 10 a.m. and will be conducted at the Fisher Building, 12121 W. North Ave.


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