2011-04-22 / Schools

Online learning program gives Simi students another way to earn credits

District hopes program will lower high school dropout rate
By Anna Bitong

The Simi Valley Unified school board has approved the purchase of an online learning program that will allow students to recover credits this summer and attend a virtual school in the fall.

At a special meeting April 14, the board unanimously approved the purchase of the APEX Learning Digital Curriculum, which will operate from four computer labs at Simi Valley High School.

The purchase price of $55,050 includes one year of digital access to ClassTools Virtual containing general studies and Advanced Placement course materials and examination preparation tools for AP testing, California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) Mathematics and CAHSEE English- Language Arts.

Online summer classes will be offered to students who need to make up credits. One of the goals of the fall course is to decrease the number of high school dropouts. Students may access lessons from home or from the school campus.

Each course will come with a syllabus, unit lessons and activities with embedded multimedia. Some courses will have required and optional books, which must be purchased separately. APEX credits are accepted by CSU and UC schools.

Before the decision to buy the APEX curriculum, board clerk Janice DiFatta said she was concerned about having enough space and technological support for students accessing the program from school. She was also worried that implementing and maintaining the program would end up costing more than the quoted price.

It is uncertain if new staff will be hired to support APEX students or if current school staff would be tapped for the task.

“I can’t support moving forward unless I know what the long-term costs are,” DiFatta said. “I’d like to know what (possibly) hiring four teachers will cost and what oversight during the year will cost. I don’t want to encumber ourselves to additional costs . . . down the line (that we) are not able to afford.”

Bill Bundy of APEX said he did not know of any district that dropped the program because of high unforeseen expenses.

Part of the program’s cost will be covered by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds which may be used to start new education programs.

“I’m comfortable using ARRA funds for the summer because right now . . . the kids are out there with nothing (for summer),” said Lowell Schultze, SVUSD’s associate superintendent of business and facilities.

Bill Waxman, district administrator, confirmed the program has curbed the dropout rate in other districts, as kids who had left school come back and eventually graduate high school through APEX.

Trustee Rob Collins said he was excited about the program’s potential to bring students back to the district. “There are a lot of at-risk kids who really need these programs,” Collins said.

One possible drawback, Collins said, is that kids may perceive the program as an easier way to graduate.

Waxman disagreed.

“This is not easy stuff,” Waxman said. “The rigor and content of the course” do not provide a simpler alternative to traditional classes, he said.

Trustee Jeanne Davis said the program’s projected success is speculative, since it is too early to confirm how many kids will take advantage of the program.

Other Ventura County school districts that use APEX include Ventura, Conejo, Ojai, Moorpark and Oxnard.

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