Online public charters impact local schools

72 Avoyelles Parish students choose ‘virtual classroom’

Online public charter schools continue to lure students away from the local classrooms, with 72 Avoyelles students enrolled in a “virtual school” for the 2018-19 school year.

The two statewide online charter schools are University View Academy -- formerly called Louisiana Connections -- and Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy (LAVCA).

LAVCA has 32 students from Avoyelles Parish enrolled this year. It had 25 last year, including one who graduated from the online school.

U View, or UVA, has 40 Avoyelles Parish students enrolled. That is down from the 58 it had last year. One parish student graduated from the virtual school last year. A school official said active enrollment is still open to fill vacant positions in all grades, so that number could increase.

While the total impact of virtual enrollment comes to about 5.5 students per grade level, in dollars-and-cents it means approximately $432,000 less in state Minimum Foundation Program funds to the local public schools -- assuming all 72 students would otherwise be in one of the 10 APSD public schools.

ABOUT LAVCA

LAVCA Operations Manager Kristi Davis said the school offers a free laptop to any student who qualifies for free and reduced lunch in a brick-and-mortar school. The classes can be accessed by personal PCs and laptops as well.

“If they have internet access, they are good to go,” Davis said.

The school offers a dual enrollment program for eligible high school students.

“Students can gain enough credits to almost earn an associate’s degree while they are finishing their high school courses,” she said. “We have agreements with several community colleges and four-year universities.

“If a student has a specific interest in a college that we have not signed an agreement with, we will reach out to that school and try to sign an agreement for that student,” Davis added.

To enter the dual enrollment program, a student must be at least 15, have taken the ACT and scored at least 19 in math and 18 in English and have a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Students must also meet the admissions standards of the college awarding the credit.

LAVCA’s guidance team approves participation in the program and can be reached at 877-490-3596 to answer questions about admission standards and provide other information about the dual enrollment program.

The school also offers once-a-month field trips that allow the online students to interact with their classmates.

Davis said LAVCA is tuition-free, but there could be individual fees -- such as cap and gown fees for graduating seniors, prom fees, etc., “just like in a brick-and-mortar school.”

LAVCA’s “Head of School” is Danielle Scott Johnson.

The school has an enrollment of about 1,900 and has a waiting list at this time.

Davis said parents can call 504-322-7543 for more information. Applications are completed and filed online.

She said the application portal will reopen in November for applications for the Spring semester.

“We generally have openings in January,” she said.

ABOUT U VIEW
UVA Superintendent Dr. Lonnie Luce said high school students who go through the school’s Early College program “will have saved two years of costs towards a college degree or be prepared to enter a technical field with a higher rate of pay.”

The school has about 2,300 students with a student-teacher ratio of 26 to 1. All of its teachers are state certified.

UVA is in its second year as an independent charter school, after severing its ties with the national Connections Academy group of schools.

The school’s Early College program is its version of the dual enrollment programs such as that between Avoyelles Parish School District and LSUA. U View said there are 10 Avoyelles Parish high schoolers enrolled in its Early College program.

It dubs itself a “K-14” school because participating high school students can earn an associate’s degree from participating community colleges while they are attending high school.

The “K-14” college program is open only to pre-qualified students, Luce noted.

Students enrolled in UVA receive a laptop computer, curriculum and support for the parent/adult who monitors the student’s work.

“From the moment a student enters our virtual classrooms, they are oriented towards pursuing their maximum development in one of two pathways: university transfer credit or career development/Jump Start,” he said. “By the time they graduate with their University View Academy diploma, they have also completed two years of college-credit courses.

“Technically, we are now a K-14 school to every student who desires this track,” he added.

Luce said UVA orients its students “towards their best future and helps them expand their ability to get a quality education or job after graduation. For parents, we’re also saving their student two years of advanced education costs, so four years of TOPS dollars are still available.”

U View has at least five field trips per month in around the state to give students and their families “an opportunity to socialize and for parents to compare notes and learn tips from each other on how to maximize their children’s learning experience,” a school spokesman said.

School officials said UVA is still accepting enrollments at this time. Families wishing more information or to pursue enrollment can call 225-421-2900 or visit the website at www.UniversityView.Academy.

Those entering high school who are interested in the Early College Program should make that interest known when enrolling.

NOT FOR EVERYONE

Online school is not for everyone. Ideally, parents and prospective students should attend an information session presented by the online academies. If that is not possible, parents should speak with the parent of an online academy student to get firsthand information on what is involved in being an “online family.”

Parents should also talk to school faculty and staff, asking questions and gaining information needed to decide whether online education is right for their child.

Another thing parents should understand -- being a “charter school” does not necessarily mean the school boasts high performance scores.

While Avoyelles Public Charter (K-12 grades) had a 2017 school performance score of 117, earning an “A” rating and LaSAS (grades 7-12) scored 114.5 for an “A,” UVA (K-12) had 80.8 for a “C” and LAVCA scored 58.4 for a “D.”

All four of those charter schools had the same letter grade rating in 2016 and all four are designated as “meeting expectations” by the Louisiana Department of Education.

The online schools seem to be more difficult for the elementary students than for the middle and high school students.

For example, UVA ranked 180th out of 302 high schools and 228th out of 411 middle schools but 565th out of 728 elementary schools in the state.

We could not find a similar report for LAVCA.

LAVCA’s Davis said some students -- especially younger elementary -- may struggle due to a lack of discipline needed in a virtual school.

Without strong support for the program from a parent or other adult to keep the young student on track, they can fall behind.

“The older students have more self-discipline,” she said. “They also need strong home support, but they are able to stay on task better than the younger children.”

UVA’s rankings seem to support Davis’ comments, showing the best rating for high school, next best for middle school and then a poor showing for elementary.

In a very real way, when a student enrolls in an online academy, the parents also “enroll” in the program.

Both online charter schools provide training, assistance and resources to help parents or other “learning coaches” for the students successfully steer the child through the virtual school year.

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