The Tacoma School District might soon offer its high school students online courses for credit through Federal Way's Internet Academy.
Ninety full-time-equivalent students from Tacoma could begin taking courses online in the fall through an agreement with the Federal Way School District. Tacoma would hire three teachers for Federal Way's program.
Far more than 90 students could enroll for 450 available class slots because students usually only take a portion of their classes online.
The agreement would enable Tacoma to keep state funding for its online students. The money would pay for Tacoma's Internet teachers and to design future courses, said Gil Mendoza, who directs alternative education for Tacoma schools.
Tacoma also would ensure teachers meet with its Internet students on a regular basis, Mendoza said.
Tacoma district leaders are reviewing the proposal from Federal Way, which became the state's first public school district to offer Internet classes in 1996.
School boards for both districts must still approve.
Internet Academy Principal Ron Mayberry said the agreement would mark the first time in Washington two districts have joined to provide Internet classes.
Connie Rickman, president of the Tacoma School Board, said she supports a partnership with Federal Way that would provide another way to learn.
"We don't want to lose kids," Rickman said. "We want our kids to learn and we want our kids to have a skill when they leave school."
Mendoza, who will become superintendent of Sumner schools in July, said Tacoma wants to offer Internet classes tailored to its students.
"It would build options and flexibility in their schedules," he said.
The one-year agreement would allow Tacoma to begin meeting the increasing demand for online classes without creating an entirely new program, Mendoza said.
The courses could draw students who are working or otherwise need flexible course times, Mendoza said. Students could make up credits online. And those who have dropped out of school could be back in classes through the Internet and by attending some high school in person, he said.
State basic education funding for each full-time Tacoma student -- $4,300 a year -- would pay for the three Tacoma teachers who would work out of the Internet Academy's offices in Federal Way, Mendoza said. Of that amount, 22 percent would cover Federal Way's Internet Academy costs, including secretarial help, technology support and software licenses, Mayberry said.
Karen Dickinson, associate superintendent for Tacoma schools, said students could also take courses through the Digital Learning Commons. The Internet Academy is a member of that nonprofit consortium, which offers more than 300 courses from a variety of providers.
About 20 full-time-equivalent students from the Tacoma School District already are enrolled in the Internet Academy, Mendoza said. The state allows students to enroll in schools and programs outside of their district.
Tacoma high school students could take any course from the Internet Academy. The agreement would expand Federal Way's enrollment by nearly one-fourth. By getting larger, more union teachers would be employed and Federal Way's academy would grow and continue to compete with commercially run Internet programs, Mayberry said.
"As a public school, we need to hang on to online public instruction," he said.
Since Federal Way launched its online academy, several other districts have added Internet programs. Most are run by private, for-profit companies.
K12 Inc. operates the Washington Virtual Academy for the Steilacoom Historical School District. The Quillayute Valley School District in Forks offers courses from the Virtual High School and Insight School of Washington.
Through Federal Way's academy, students take text-based courses online with graphics, flash content and short videos. They turn in assignments via e-mail to their teacher.
Mendoza said he likes Federal Way's program because it aligns to the state's expectations for grade-level performance. Tacoma district employees have gone online to check out it and other Internet programs.
"We thought Federal Way's program was the best match," Mendoza said.
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