Kanawha County’s public schools superintendent revealed Monday that his school system plans to partner with the state Department of Education to offer an online school option statewide, and the Kanawha Board of Education unanimously approved a job description for a planned new executive director to run the program.
Superintendent Ron Duerring said the state department already has two employees working at the Kanawha central office on the program, and said his school system intends to start the program with about 30 Kanawha high schoolers in the spring, before opening it up statewide and possibly to students in lower grades.
Duerring urged state lawmakers earlier this year to pass Senate Bill 630, which opens the door for the program. The state already has an online school program that Deputy State Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said earlier this year is only full-time in special circumstances.
“It’s not fully operational in the way that Senate Bill 630 is allowing for totally online school students to get a diploma,” Duerring said. “And so we’re going to merge those two and run it out of here, out of Kanawha County.”
SB630, signed by Gov. Jim Justice, allows county public school systems to offer students full-time K-12 virtual education and an online pathway for earning a high school diploma, while also receiving the full per-pupil state school aid formula funding for each student who participates, including home-schoolers.
That per-pupil funding is worth thousands of dollars per student, and Duerring said the program will become “self-sufficient.” He said other county public school systems will pay fees in some manner for their students to take the online courses, while getting to keep the rest of the per-pupil funding for their own counties.
The approved job description for the new executive director uses some private market terms when it says the role’s responsibilities include “Under the direction of the Superintendent, establish[ing] strategic goals and objectives for product development and delivery, and for growth in the customer base.”
He said the online students will technically enroll in local schools in their counties.
“That way they can participate in sports, activities, they can access the counseling services, but they may be a full-time online virtual student,” Duerring said, along with “all the things that a school has to offer.” He said day school isn’t for everyone and “in this day and age, everybody should be able to get their diploma in some way to accommodate all these learners.”
Among the details that Duerring said haven’t been worked out yet are the enrollment requirements for the program.
SB630 would allow the program to at least partly reconnect homeschoolers to public school systems. The law doesn’t specifically bar school systems from receiving full per-pupil funding for students who only take a few online classes through the program, but it largely seems to deal with full-time online students or those in “blended” programs, which include both online education and education “in a supervised setting outside the home.”
But depending on enrollment requirements established by county school systems — they can still create online education programs separate from Kanawha, and it was unclear Monday if the state department or state Board of Education would affect Kanawha’s requirements — online education policies could also draw current public school students or prospective public school students away from in-class instruction and toward online courses.
At least during the legislative session, Duerring seemed opposed to such a thing, saying: “our philosophy is if a school offers a course, the child should take the course at the school.” When asked Monday whether he’ll try to prevent that in Kanawha’s enrollment requirements, he said “I’m not going to talk about the specifics of that because we’re working on that right now, and until that’s finalized I really don’t want to comment.”
The Kanawha school system’s salary schedule starts executive directors at a $85,193 annual salary, and that pay grows to $92,838 after five years of experience, stays at that level until after 20 years of experience, and then continues growing to top out at $102,121 after 35 years of experience. But Duerring suggested Monday that the hire could start out above $85,193, considering past years of experience.
The position, which Duerring said probably will start being advertised Tuesday, has a “master’s degree in educational administration” and a minimum of three years of middle or high school principal experience listed among its qualifications.
Duerring said $32,000 out of a $100,000 grant from the Pennsylvania-based Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation will pay part of the new executive director’s salary. The rest will pay for other things, including the school system learning how to develop its own courses without needing a third-party company.
SB630 exempts online courses from things like maximum teacher-pupil ratios. The legislation says students in the virtual programs must meet the same state testing requirements as other students in the school district. To receive a diploma, students must complete the same coursework required of regular public school students in the county.