Fighting fire with fire

Northgate considers offering its own cyber school

Northgate officials have long lamented the fact that some $160,000 is spent each year to cover the tuition of district students who attend cyber charter schools rather than Northgate’s own facilities. The expenditure of stimulus funds for special education students, however, could open a door that will close off that drain on the district’s budget.

School board member Susan Nolan told fellow board members at their April 13 committee of the whole meeting that officials are seriously looking at a local program that could create distance learning classes specifically designed and coordinated with the Northgate curriculum.

Nolan said that the idea of offering cyber classes through a Pittsburgh-based company grew from the district’s expected receipt of federal stimulus money that can be used for special education. She said that Northgate currently spends a great deal to send special education students to other schools because Northgate does not have enough students of any particular type of disability to warrant the hiring of multiple teachers.

Through the programs offered by VLN Partners, however, specialized instruction could be offered via computer in a Northgate classroom, Nolan said.

But why stop there? Nolan said that the program could grow to encompass students who already have opted for cyber charter school, bringing back some of the $10,000 per student Northgate pays each year in charter school tuition. She said that the cost per student through VLN Partners is about $4,500 per student.

It has the potential that it could save significant dollars,” Nolan said.

The advantage to Northgate having its own cyber school program, Nolan said, is that the local distance learning classes can be coordinated with the Northgate curriculum, so that students can move between the cyber and actual classrooms with no loss of time or instruction.

Another plus as the idea takes form is that Northgate would be able to offer any number of special classes to meet individual student needs and interests without having to hire a full-time teacher or fill a specific classroom.

Area school districts that already are working with VLN Partners include Plum, Penn-Trafford, Shaler, Susquehanna, Penn Hills, Frazier, Bethel Park, Woodland Hills, Uniontown, Pleasant Valley and Charleroi.

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