Tigard-Tualatin School District seeks real space for virtual school

Officials say they hope to lure homeschoolers to online academy

The Tigard-Tualatin Schools District is one step closer to kicking off a new online learning academy that could open its doors as soon as February.

In October, the School Board gave the thumbs up for an online pilot program that would allow students the option to take certain classes online instead of in a traditional classroom.

'We knew that we had a bunch of kids in the district already doing online classes (through other districts),' said district spokeswoman Susan Stark Haydon. 'There was obviously a need, and we thought we could be able to fill it.'

The Tigard-Tualatin School Board voted Monday to allow the district to negotiate leases on a building in Tualatin that will become the headquarters for the new Tigard-Tualatin Online Academy.

Students enrolled in the Online Academy would take most of their coursework online, but the physical location would allow the students to get help with assignments from teachers and have access to computers.

'It provides a little extra support. There are some kids who need a bit more structure,' said Stark Haydon. 'Also we will have some other kinds of activities there, so it's not just kids sitting at a computer all day. We will have some other activities to engage students.'

The new Online Academy will be free to students living in the district's boundaries and is meant to draw students not currently enrolled in the district, such as homeschoolers and students taking online classes elsewhere like with the Oregon Connections Academy. The academy is an online-charter school based in Scio that currently enrolls about 100 students in Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood.

Stark Haydon said that the district's Online Academy would be every bit as good as programs like the Oregon Connections Academy, and would have the advantage of a teacher just down the street for students to talk to.

'The beauty of this program is that students who are a part of it will also have access to take classes at other (Tigard-Tualatin) schools and be on sports teams or band,' Stark Haydon said. 'It opens up a lot of opportunities for students.'

Students currently enrolled in the district are welcome to take classes online as well, but Superintendent Rob Saxton said that the new school should push to attract students not currently enrolled in the district,

'Really and truly, if what we will attract to the online school are kids we already have in our schools, and we are already receiving funding for, it is not a model that can work as far as funding for us,' Saxton told the board on Monday. 'If we attract kids to it, it has to be new kids that we currently don't get any funding for to offset the cost of offering this.'

Stark Haydon said that some students had already started taking classes online, and that the district would start promoting the new Online Academy after the district leases one of the buildings, which is expected as early as this week.

The district is currently deciding between and negotiating terms for two buildings less than one block from each other near the TriMet WES station in Tualatin.

The first building could cost the district about $74,00 for a one-year lease near Haggen Food and Pharmacy, 8515 S.W. Tualatin-Sherwood Road.

The second building, a $55,000-per-year storefront, is located in the 19300 block of Mohave Court.

Stark Haydon said the first year the Online Academy will likely be small.

'I think we are not expecting a bunch of kids at the start, but it will hopefully grow,' she said. 'Eventually we want it to be at least 100 students, or maybe a couple of hundred students.'

The lease will be paid for through property sales, Stark Haydon said, and new computers for the building will be purchased through the $20 million technology bond voters approved in May.

The Online Academy would have one teacher assigned to it, Stark Haydon said, as well as one classified employee. The building would be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.