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Centre marks 10th year of online learning

Staff writer

Centre’s school district is celebrating 10 years of success with its online learning program.

“Putting you at the Centre of your education” is the slogan for the Kansas Online Learning Program.

Former superintendent Jerri Kemble proposed an online learning option in July 2010 after she met a cyber-educator from Pennsylvania at an Apple conference in Dallas, Texas. The educator suggested such a program could be a way for a small school district to increase student enrollment at a time when enrollment was dropping.

Board members, including president Brent Methvin, were cautious about offering a new service and wondered if it would cost more money than it would bring in, but they approved the proposal after a long discussion.

They purchased a curriculum that included video-taped class instruction, bought laptop computers for students, and hired student learning advocates to connect with parents, monitor students’ progress, and make sure they completed their work.

Forty-four other Kansas school districts already were offering virtual classes, and the cyber-educator recommended putting “Kansas” in the name to reflect its statewide coverage.

Kansas Online Learning Program became a premiere search item on the Web.

Before the board’s approval of the program, Kemble had recruited teachers’ aide Vickie Jirak to help get it started.

“She said she had the perfect job for me,” Jirak said. “I had no idea what it was.”

They set up booths at area county fairs, promoting KOLP. By the official enrollment date of Sept. 20, 21 students had been enrolled. The online learning program began enrolling adults two years later.

Jirak became its official coordinator on Jan. 1, 2011, and continues in that position.

“I take this virtual school very personally,” Jirak said. “I graduated from Centre, and my children are Centre graduates.”

Through Jirak’s efforts — assisted by Michelle Knepp and technician Melissa Barton — and the support of the superintendent and school board, the online learning option has grown rapidly.

In 2018-19, the Centre district received state aid for 110 kindergarten through 12th grade students. An average of 200 to 250 adults are enrolled at any given time, as some graduate and others enroll. The district received funding for 456 credit hours this year, and 55 students graduated from Centre’s virtual school.

“The goal has always been to serve the community and the state of Kansas to make a district,” superintendent Susan Beeson said. “The program has generated the revenue to expand and grow.”

In its first five years, the district received $5,000 for each student enrolled on Sept. 20. Enrollment grew from 23.7 in 2010-11 to 282.8 in 2014-15.

The state legislature changed funding for virtual schools in 2015, basing its funding on credits earned. The formula remained the same for k-12 students, but the change proved challenging.

“It was like starting over when the funding changed,” Jirak said.

Adult enrollment dropped, but credits earned increased when adults were encouraged to complete a course in a month to six weeks. Jirak said that has improved the program, providing more motivation for enrollees to complete the work in a timely manner.

Jirak said the program is running “extremely well.”

“I have been with KOLP since the beginning, when we enrolled 21 students, and it has grown and prospered and now has a positive reputation across the state,” Jirak said. “We have a proven track record of super success; we are educating people, improving people’s lives, and making a positive difference.”

Student learning advocates are Kansas certified teachers. Some come from outside the Centre district. From two the first year, that number has grown to 12. Advocates each monitor 8 to 20 students.

Teaching parents how to use the program’s softaware is a huge concern for organizers, so Centre schedules a beginning of the year training session for parents.

Beeson’s responsibility is to take big program decisions to the board, review purchase requests, and make state reports. She also reviews adult applications and is in charge of hiring personnel.

“Susan is always there for us,” Jirak said.

Last modified July 18, 2019

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