District launches its own virtual school

Posted: April 19, 2013

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT of Philadelphia is getting into the cyber-school business this fall in an attempt to win back city students who attend cyber-charter schools, which cost the district more per pupil.

The Philadelphia Virtual Academy, for kids in grades six through 12, would offer some real-life perks, such as a drop-in center where students can meet up with fellow students as well as a support team for each pupil. Every team includes a teacher and technical specialist.

"We want to begin competing for students," schools Superintendent William Hite said in a news briefing. "We want to begin reclaiming some students who have chosen other options."

The district will ask the School Reform Commission Thursday to approve a $15 million request over two years to pay for the virtual school, which would be administered by the Chester County Intermediate Unit. The unit helps administer 35 virtual schools in the region.

The funds would only be used as students enroll in the cyber-school.

The average cost per student is $5,700, which the district would pay to the intermediate unit, district officials said.

About 6,000 city students currently attend 16 cyber-charter schools at an average cost of $9,800, the district said. The price tag this year for the cyber-charters is about $60 million.

If 85 students sign up for the virtual academy, which Hite referred to as the PVA, the district would break even because the savings would cover start-up and operating costs, he said.

Fran Newberg, deputy chief of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said she hopes 1,000 students will enroll in the first year and 1,200 the following year.

"It's a lofty goal, but a good goal," Newberg said.

"A vast array of classes," including advanced placement, will be offered, Hite said.

District headquarters on Broad Street near Spring Garden will be the site of the first drop-in center.

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina

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