There are some 58 students in the Astoria School District boundaries being home-schooled, by the Northwest Regional Education Service District’s count.

The district, facing lowering enrollment and continuing funding cuts, recently unveiled Oregon Choice Academy, its own online K-12 school that could help bring in some of those home-schooled students, along with the $5,800 in state revenue Superintendent Craig Hoppes said the district receives for every one of them.

Hoppes said the school is under development, and that he’s about ready to start calling the families of those 58 students to gauge their interest.

“All we want is an opportunity to talk to these parents,” he said about reaching out. “We feel we can provide more instructional support here than if they go to another virtual school in a different geographical location.”

The biggest advantage of Oregon Choice, Hoppes said, is that students will have access to the district’s resources and in-class support if they need it. Capt. Robert Gray School will serve as the online school’s headquarters; students will be able to use district facilities; and there will be local teachers behind their education.

He stresses, though, that the academy is not meant to replace in-class instruction. It’s a pre-emptive measure to attract home-schooledstudents attending other virtual academies. It could potentially take students from throughout the state.

Oregon Choice will limit enrollment at 25 to 30 K-12 students the first year. The staffing for the school, added Hoppes, will be existing district teachers taking on the extra duty of helping the home-schoolers. The district will also hire a part-time position to provide academic assistance and monitoring of student progress.

The district will form an enrollment committee to evaluate students showing interest in Oregon Choice.

With the open enrollment agreement in Clatsop County where only districts accepting students have to sign off on a transfer, Hoppes said Oregon Choice could potentially draw in students from throughout the county. According to NWESD, there are hundreds of home-schooled children in Clatsop County’s five districts: 58 in Astoria, 38 in Warrenton-Hammond, 29 in Seaside, 13 in Knappa and five in Jewell.

How it works

Oregon Choice Academy would use Oregon Virtual Education, the NWESD’s new online high school option, for grades 9 through 12. The district buys curriculum for $300 per semester per course from ORVED, which uses teachers from around the state – some even from Astoria – to run classes.

For K-8, it will use Calvert, one of the nation’s largest providers of online schooling for school districts.

“The K-8 classes will be traditional workbooks and supplemental materials from Calvert,” said Scott Holmstedt, the district’s technology director who’s working on Oregon Choice.

Trenton Cornehl, a spokesman for the Maryland-based Calvert, said his company specializes in helping districts found financially sustainable and academically proficient online schools. “We as a nonprofit help districts put money back in their budgets.”

The company’s researchers look at each state’s educational standards to create a compatible curriculum. Cornehl said Calvert gives recommendations on which programs should be offered, but the district has the final say.

In the coming weeks, Calvert will start a marketing campaign for Oregon Choice.

Yamhill-Carlton’s Experience

Hoppes said Oregon Choice Academy will be modeled after the Yamhill-Carlton School District’s Alliance Program, which started in September 2010 with 24 students and has jumped to 41 this year.

“We had some parents who were already home-schooling in the community,” said Amber Shore, coordinator and teacher for the school. “They came to the district to ask for support. They saw all the charter schools popping up and wanted a local option.”

Shore said a personalized curriculum, specially designed for the needs of different children, is key. Some of the students need remedial help; some are ahead in various subjects; and some attend school part-time while taking other classes online.

For staffing, Yamhill-Carlton has Shore working full-time, meeting with students from K-8 every week. With her is another teacher putting in about eight hours a week, while the district’s superintendent and business manager provide additional support. “I would love more, but we work with what we have,” said Shore.

Next year, the Alliance Program will start using ORVED for grades 7-12.

Holmstedt said website for Oregon Choice Academy – oregonchoice.org – is not up yet, but he’s developing an online question-and-answer system. The district will also be holding additional meetings.

For more information, contact Hoppes at (503) 325-6441.

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