Pasco School District may expand online learning to elementary students

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 28, 2014 

The Pasco School District may expand its online learning program to serve elementary-level students, officials said during school board meeting this week.

The district would have to find space so Internet Pasco Academy of Learning, or iPAL, could expand, said Kathy Hayden, executive director of curriculum and professional development.

Expanding the service would meet demand from families, particularly those who homeschool their children, Hayden said.

iPAL began a year ago as part of the district's efforts to offer an alternative to a traditional middle school or high school classroom. It is primarily an online program where students take courses at home, but are able to visit a learning lab to get one-on-one help.

The program serves special needs students and those who might still attend some regular classes.

The expansion to the elementary level would be based on a "parent partnership" model where the parent is the primary instructor and the district provides educational support, Hayden said. It would be similar to the Mid-Columbia Parent Partnership program in the Kennewick School District and the Richland School District's Three Rivers HomeLink.

Board member Steve Christensen questioned whether the expansion is needed, but Hayden said homeschooling families are interested, particularly in courses that parents don't have expertise in. Superintendent Saundra Hill said the district has also released students from the district in past years to obtain similar services in Kennewick and Richland.

A few board members said they are concerned about the 60 percent course completion rate from iPAL's first year. That rate has increased to 71 percent this school year, district officials said, and is above the state average for similar programs. Some students also don't finish courses because they realize the program doesn't work for them.

"That's not a failure, that's just figuring out what works," said board member Amy Phillips.

In other business, Aaron Richardson of west Pasco told the board that any future proposals for school bonds and levies could be in jeopardy if the district doesn't improve its communications with residents.

Richardson, whose children will be affected by the opening of Rosalind Franklin STEM Elementary School next fall, was involved in the school boundary determination process. He was generally happy with that process but the district needs to take steps to better engage residents and have clearer plans for projects, he said.

"I'm very concerned that in the future the next levy won't pass if some things don't change," Richardson said. "You need to be more transparent when you present things to the community."

Many west Pasco parents were unable to get accurate information about how many students signed up to "opt-in" to Franklin if their home didn't fall inside its boundary, Richardson said. Having that data could have helped families determine how to approach the boundary changes.

There's also no firm plan for opening Rosalind, which will be the first Pasco school to fully use a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, curriculum, Richardson said. That has led to confusion for parents, students and even teachers.

Also at the meeting, the school board said it will not oppose a proposal from a grocery store near Stevens Middle School to serve samples of beer, wine and hard liquor.

The Albertson's on 20th Avenue already sells beer, wine and liquor. The district received notice from the state liquor control board that the store plans to have an employee serve samples during business hours, Hill said.

Board members expressed some concern about how accessible the samples would be and whether the store would ask for identification. Christensen said he opposed the idea personally.

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