Burrell pleased with cyber programs

Liz Hayes
| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 1:06 a.m.

Burrell administrators are pleased with the progress of the school district's cyber offerings and are considering options for expansion.

Ken Pruitt, the assistant principal at Huston Middle School who oversees Burrell's online learning, recently updated the school board on enrollment in both the Burrell eAcademy and the summer credit-recovery program.

Now in its sixth year, the eAcademy offers both full-time and flex-time cyber school options for Burrell students throughout the school year, Pruitt said.

Students can choose to take all classes through the cyber school, or they can take a mix of online and in-classroom courses.

Pruitt used the example of a student who, because of a medical issue, could not attend a regular classroom full-time last year and was able to take some classes online through the eAcademy.

Pruitt said a dozen students are enrolled in the Burrell eAcademy this school year, nine of them fulltime.

Although that may not sound like a large number, Pruitt noted that's a significant savings to the district, since Burrell likely would have paid at least $10,000 in tuition per child to attend cyber school elsewhere.

Additionally, Pruitt said he was able to bring five students who previously were cyber-schooled back to “face-to-face” classes at Burrell after he reached out to 30 families with elementary- or middle-school-age students in other cyber programs.

Pruitt said he wanted to let them know the district now offers a cyber option for kindergarten through 12th grade. During the summer, the district entered into an agreement with the National Network of Digital Schools Management Foundation to provide cyber curriculum for primary grades, something the district was lacking.

Burrell administrators said the elementary curriculum provided through the foundation is the same that is used by the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber).

Pruitt said the additional curriculum, the option of flex-time Burrell cyber courses and access to clubs, programs and a local support network helped convince returning families they'd have a safety net and fallback plan for their children.

By targeting their efforts to retain elementary students, Burrell administrators hope to keep them in the district through graduation.

“What you need, we want to deliver,” Pruitt said.

Board member Danielle Kowalkowski questioned whether the Burrell eAcademy can provide courses for students interested in taking advanced or additional classes beyond what is offered in the bricks-and-mortar schools.

She offered the example of a student who wanted to attend school in regular Burrell classrooms and wanted to learn a foreign language the district doesn't usually offer.

Pruitt and Superintendent Shannon Wagner said that is one of the issues they are considering. It poses questions such as whether there should be a charge for accelerated classes and how those classes would work around the contract with the district's teachers union.

Pruitt said the district offered a well-received credit-recovery summer program, which was open to both Burrell and outside students. He said 200 students from 22 school districts enrolled in 28 courses over the summer. Not quite 70 of the students were from Burrell.

“I believe we're doing a great job and what we're doing is valuable,” Pruitt said.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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