School officials discuss ways they can continue to grow

After a successful two years, Wapakoneta City Schools administrators are discussing ways they can continue to grow the district’s virtual academy.

During a presentation this week, Wapakoneta High School Principal Aaron Rex said they are considering adding classes for adults and elementary students looking into the future.

“We have talked about the opportunity of opening it up to them as well,” Rex said. “We see it as a possibility for growth.”

The Wapakoneta Virtual Academy, which began in February of 2010, grew from what district administrators saw as a need. At the time, 45 Wapakoneta students were attending virtual schools outside of the district.

Wapakoneta City Schools Superintendent Keith Horner described it as a business move.

“We believe we can save dollars if we do it ourselves,” Horner said. “Other schools have done similar things and been successful.”

He said by having 20 students in the program it essentially pays for itself.

Horner indicated  there are also educational incentives for operating a virtual school in the district.

“We feel invested in these kids,” Horner said, sharing that the virtual academy allows them to continue that relationship, as by participating in the virtual academy, they remain Wapakoneta City School students. Otherwise, they would have had to withdraw from the school.

Modeled in part after such an academy the administrators visited in Findlay, the Wapakoneta Virtual Academy is overseen by Doug Frye, who said going into its second year, they are beginning to fine tune the program.

“It’s not only financially good for the system but good to give another option in a constantly changing system,” Frye said.

While other districts had created virtual academies before Wapakoneta, it was the first among area schools. Others have come on board since, with administrators of local districts, including St. Marys and Celina, talking with Wapakoneta about its program and Delphos opening its own virtual academy. Students from both Bath and St. Marys are open enrolled at Wapakoneta and participating in the virtual academy.

At a recent meeting of superintendents, Horner said they represented districts that in the most part had already started or were in the process of starting their own virtual academies.

“No one said they were not going to get into it,” Horner said. “Like it or not, this is the way the market is going. Virtual schooling is not a fad.”

Wapakoneta City Schools board member Ron Mertz echoed that sentiment, saying that, “This is the direction our society is headed. You either get on board, stay on board, or get left behind.”

Board member Pat Gibson said as education changes, in some ways it has become more competitive like a business.

“Education has changed so drastically,” Gibson said. “This is another avenue to reach more students.”

He commended those who work closely with Wapakoneta’s virtual academy and said he is impressed with how it is proving to work.

“It’s really important to serve kids across the spectrum,” Gibson said. “At the end of the day it really is a service to the community I am glad we are able to do.”