2006-07-20 / Schools

School without walls coming to LVUSD

By Stephanie Bertholdo bertholdo@theacorn.com

A new high school is being built in the Las Virgenes Unified School District, but without walls, classrooms or the trappings of a typical school structure.

Construction costs may be nil, but school officials say the educational possibilities are virtually limitless.

Tied in with other alternative programs offered in the district, the virtual high school will benefit a wider group of students who prefer an educational program tailored to their particular needs, officials said. They believe the flexibility will free students from conformity.

At two recent board meetings, Assistant Superintendent of Education Joe Nardo discussed the future of alternative education. He said virtual high school "has to be an alternative to something," but doesn't mean that students who opt for an alternative education have failed at a traditional campus.

The needs of the individual are sometimes lost at typical high schools, he said.

A different type of school

The differences between the new high school and existing alternative programs are numerous, but some systems will be shared. A site council will be formed for the virtual school, a principal hired, and the County-DistrictSchool (CDS) code system implemented.

The CDS system is designed to provide the California departments of education and finance and postsecondary institutions with a basis for tracking schools. The 14-digit identification codes are not assigned to programs and are unique to this state.

"It's not like this is, you get an idea and you're out there on your own," Nardo said.

Regardless of any similarities, the new school will deliver education to students very differently. There will be greater flexibility in schedules and in the use of resources. A student could take courses at a traditional campus and a community college and do coursework online as well.

Nardo called it a 24-hour school environment, a "school of continual learning."

Superintendent Sandra Smyser said although the school will allow much greater flexibility, a set of criteria will be established to join and parent participation will be expected.

Nardo said the school will be "independent education by de

sign," focusing on students' needs rather than those of an organization. He said the flexible system will be ideal for students who are professional actors or athletes and those who must work to help their families.

The new school will allow students to finish coursework at their own pace rather than adhering to a specific calendar. Some students will be able to accelerate through high school and start college earlier.

"The progress of students is governed by the student, not by the class," Nardo said. "They can get an education and pursue their passion in a much more flexible way."

On the downside

In theory the new school promises to open the doors to choice, but school officials said there will be some downsides.

When a student leaves a comprehensive high school, Nardo said, they also lose out on the "culture," which may mean a loss of friends and activities. He predicts that some students may have a difficult time with the transition.

In the past, students who are enrolled in independent study courses have been required to take finals in the subject in a class that they may not have attended. The new school will not require tests to be taken at other local high schools.

School officials noted that online courses are difficult, and some students may have a tough time adjusting to the rigor.

Other alternative education options offered in the district include Indian Hills High School, independent study, home schooling, and home and hospice instruction for students unable to attend conventional classrooms.

Virtually complete

The district is working through the details to get the

school approved by the California Department of Education. Deputy Superintendent Donald Zimring said the virtual school may be up and running by September.

School officials are grappling with a name for the school, and have toyed with the idea of calling it an academy.

"I like this model," said board member Pat Schulz. "Instead of trying to fit kids in a mold, student needs and learning styles are No. 1."

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