Now that a $15 million grant to increase students' access to college credit in high school and other personalized learning has received final approval, several local school districts are planning how to make the most of the opportunities.
"We plan to use it to be very collaborative ... so we're able to offer a greater menu for our kids," said Fort Frye Local Schools Superintendent Stephanie Starcher.
Four Washington County districts - Fort Frye, Warren and Wolf Creek Local and Belpre City - are among the 26 public districts and one district-sponsored community school to join in the application to form the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative Personalized Learning Network. Morgan, Noble and Switzerland of Ohio Local Schools are also involved.
The Straight A Fund governing board approved the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative group and 23 other applicants this month, and the state Controlling Board signed off on the recommendations Monday. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross is scheduled to attend a recognition ceremony for the OAC recipients today at West Muskingum High School in Zanesville.
Members will receive funding based on their enrollment. The money will be used for credentialing of teachers for dual enrollment courses, for which teachers must have a master's degree in their area of licensure or 18 semester hours in that area, at the college credentialing them. In addition, funding will be used toward technological upgrades to facilitate sharing online courses between the districts.
Thanks to changes in credentialing standards by the Ohio Board of Regents, Belpre City Schools is unable to offer dual enrollment courses this year, even though it has previously. With the help of the grant, Superintendent Tony Dunn expects that to change, possibly as soon as the next school year.
At a glance
Ohio Appalachian Collaborative Personalized Learning Network:
Funded by a $15 million grant from Ohio's Straight A Fund.
The network includes 26 public school districts - including Belpre City, Fort Frye, Warren and Wolf Creek Local - and one district-sponsored community school.
Goals of the program include increasing students' post-secondary aspiration and preparedness by giving them opportunities to earn college credit while still in high school.
The money will pay for credentialing of teachers to teach college-credit courses and equipment to enable online learning opportunities between schools.
Once the project is fully operational, it is estimated there will be an annual savings of $3.6 million in college costs to students and their families.
The funding is also intended to benefit students in grades six through eight.
Source: Ohio Appalachian Collaborative, Times research.
"It is our hope in the next couple of years to have somebody or multiple people in all of those core areas (English, math, science and social studies) that would be able to teach dual enrollment classes," he said. "There are also some technical courses that we may be able to give college credit for."
Dunn said there are half a dozen or more teachers interested in the opportunity.
Offering earlier access to college credit is beneficial to students, Dunn said, because it allows them to save tuition money down the road and see that they can handle college-level work.
"It's that ticket into higher education," he said.
Fort Frye offers dual enrollment English/language arts, social studies and math courses, Starcher said. With the grant funding, the district is looking to pay for all or a portion of the training to certify three teachers - one to offer a dual enrollment science course; one for social studies, since Washington State currently provides support for that class; and another for English, since the person currently teaching them will retire in the next few years.
How soon the additional classes are offered will depend on how soon the teachers can be credentialed, Starcher said.
Wolf Creek Superintendent Bob Caldwell said the district already offers four dual enrollment math courses and a business course in conjunction with Washington State. There are two English teachers preparing to earn master's degrees to be certified for college-level courses, one of whom already has one master's but not in the specific subject area.
"There will be no pay increase for (her)," Caldwell said at this month's Wolf Creek board meeting. "It's for her students."
Warren Local Schools offers three dual enrollment courses now, and the board of education on Monday approved a memorandum of understanding with Zane State College to allow more teachers to be certified for dual enrollment. At least 10 have expressed interest, Superintendent Kyle Newton said at the meeting.
Dual enrollment classes allow students to take college-level courses without leaving their high school campus, meaning more state funding remains at the home school. But not all such classes will originate at that school under the new network.
Some of the grant money will be used to acquire technology to facilitate distance learning, so a credentialed instructor at one school can offer dual enrollment courses for students at others. While it could be an option for any of the participating schools, Dunn said there will be a focus on collaboration between the districts in Washington County.
"We are dedicated to make that happen," he said.
That could allow for blended learning opportunities like in-person labs at a single site, Dunn said. But there may have to be some adaptations, like a "zero period" to allow students to take an online class before or after regular school hours.
"It's going to take some flexibility and some creativity," Dunn said.
The grant funds are intended to benefit students in grades six through eight as well. Starcher said one way they might be used in Fort Frye is to improve online capabilities so that Beverly-Center Elementary is no longer reliant on Fort Frye High School for its Internet connection. This would improve access to online courses through the A+ program to support more individualized learning opportunities.