CONTRIBUTORS

Give students more options, approve Maine Virtual Academy

Posted Feb. 26, 2014, at 1:19 p.m.
BDN

Creating a variety of learning options for all of Maine’s students is critically important to their success. I know this from firsthand experience, having recently retired as a Maine school superintendent with 17 years running school districts across Maine. The more opportunities provided to our learners, the more likelihood for success.

There is not one model or mold that fits all children. For most, a public school environment provides the vast array of learning experiences necessary for students to achieve success. For others, private school, virtual school or a home-schooled environment better meets their individual needs.

Several years ago, my local school district was faced with a declining enrollment, empty school classrooms and calls from our parents and communities to begin looking at alternatives. Our district’s collection of small, rural schools wasn’t able to provide sufficient academic challenge or curriculum options to keep students meaningfully engaged. As a result, students were requesting transfers to other districts, moving to private schools or turning to home schooling.

While participating in a District Administration Leadership Institute Superintendent Summit in Phoenix, Ariz., I learned how other school districts, communities and states with similar challenges were using virtual learning opportunities to meet some of their needs.

Virtual learning can provide critical curriculum options and flexibility, so students can proceed at their own pace. These individualized learning programs allow a third grader to take fifth grade math or other advanced courses in subject areas where they excel, while taking grade-level courses in other areas.

Across the country, this kind of creativity and individualization are helping keep students in other districts enrolled, engaged and challenged, and even attracting home schooled and private school students back into public classrooms.

I soon began undertaking a collaborative dialogue in our school district with adjacent communities, local home-schooled families, teachers and K12, a national online curriculum service provider, to determine whether a virtual school, a blended model (online classes as well as a place to receive face-to-face help) or other creative environments would help us address the needs in our community.

During that process, K12 was a flexible, creative expert resource that helped us examine a variety of potential virtual learning models.

While I retired before implementing these models, my enthusiasm for virtual learning to create critical student learning options and greater student success continues unabated.

As a retired superintendent, I continue to work with fellow active superintendents from across the country through the District Administration Leadership Institute, of which K12 is a sponsor. My experience continues to affirm that online resources, virtual academies and blended models create critical options that allow more students greater opportunities to succeed.

Today, Maine has a unique opportunity to authorize a virtual public charter school that will meet the needs of many students who do not fit the regular public school model. Based on my prior experience with online education, I am again putting my “virtual skills” to good use by working with the local school board of the Maine Virtual Academy.

Maine Virtual Academy is a proposed virtual public charter school guided by a diverse board of local Maine parents, educators, business and community leaders. The school has contracted with K12 to provide their award-winning online curriculum and will provide Maine students a critical alternative to the traditional public classroom.

The Maine Charter School Commission must decide whether this virtual academy should be granted a Maine charter school license. The Maine House has also given preliminary approval to a moratorium on virtual charter schools that could delay applications like Maine Virtual Academy’s under consideration by the charter school commission.

As a retired educator with over 30 years of experience (most as a school administrator), I urge the commission to grant the Maine Virtual Academy the opportunity to show Maine and the nation that it can successfully provide a world-class education for our students.

Rich Abramson of Arundel is a retired Maine superintendent and educational consultant.

 

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