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Franklin Regional to offer expanded online classes through Learning Academy

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By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Learning doesn't have to be confined to the four walls of a school – at least not at Franklin Regional.

Beginning this fall, high school students will be able to pick from an expanded selection of online classes offered both by Franklin Regional teachers and those in surrounding districts as part of the Franklin Regional Online Learning Academy.

The district has offered online courses for several years. The difference now is that students can take up to an entire day's worth of approved online classes for credit, said assistant superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac.

“We're reimagining what education could be for our students,” Reljac said. “It's about breaking out of the typical four walls of the classroom into what education could be.”

Before this year, FR students have taken online classes in three different ways, high school principal Ron Suvak said.

Some students take courses in a hybrid form – some days, the class meets face-to-face, while most days, students work asynchronously online. Others take online-only classes developed by FR teachers, including English, government and economics, business classes and math classes such as algebra and geometry. Others take online classes through a dual enrollment program at local universities.

However, this school year, students were allowed to take up to three credits from an outside institution if the course was not offered at Franklin Regional. That includes classes through the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit's eAcademy.

Tim Hammill, supervisor of educational technology and curriculum for the intermediate unit, said the program offers Westmoreland County schools an opportunity to build their own cyber schools without starting from scratch.

“Our schools don't have to create all of the resources themselves,” Hammill said. “They're given a leg up on getting a cyber solution in place.”

Penn-Trafford is the only district in Westmoreland County to not participate in the eAcadmey, Hammill said. Some districts, like Ligonier Valley, use only their own staff but use the program to house the classes.

The plan behind expanding the Franklin Regional Online Learning Academy could bring back some of the 54 students who have left the district for cyber charter schools.

For Franklin Regional, the biggest challenge, high school principal Ron Suvak said, will be helping teachers adapt to the change.

“Change is difficult,” Suvak said. “There are people are pioneers on the front end, both students and teachers. We have people who have come a long way, leaps and bounds, towards moving courses to a more virtual environment. But there are some who aren't there yet.”

Superintendent Jamie Piraino said he hopes to one day have all courses be taught online by Franklin Regional teachers. While the program begins at the high school, it will move to the middle school and, possibly, the elementary level.

“We have much more flexibility than we ever did in the past in terms of giving kids opportunities and maintaining the integrity of a Franklin Regional diploma,” Piraino said. “I mean, if two-thirds of the courses are taken outside of the program, it's not really a Franklin Regional diploma.”

Online classes can be taught after hours – and according to the agreement, teachers will receive additional compensation. Teachers will earn $225 per student enrolled in a full-year course and $140 for a semester course.

Classes each week must have an average of 200 minutes of class-based activities and one graded assignment.

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