by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) will offer online learning through a partnership with Rochester Public Schools following the discontinuation of WAPS’ previous online learning program.
School board members voted unanimously to approve the partnership at their August 4 meeting.
“It’s really exciting, and I’m really excited that we’re doing something like this, because it looks like it really will, it’s both synergistic with other districts and it will meet the needs of our children. – kids who want this, whether it’s one or 24 or 100,” said school board member Karl Sonneman.
Superintendent Annette Freiheit said the district estimates about 24 students, mostly in grades seven through 12, will participate in the new online learning program.
In June, administrators recommended that the district scrap the Winona Online Learning Academy (WOLA) due to high cost and low enrollment. Freiheit said hiring teachers to receive official state approval for WOLA would increase personnel costs. She also said funds could be spent on programs to reach more students. The school board voted 6 to 1, with Sonneman voting no, to accept the trustees’ recommendation to end WOLA and ordered district leaders to return to the board with other online learning options. Freiheit proposed the partnership with Rochester last month.
At the July 21 school board meeting, Freiheit said WAPS students could access online classes through Rochester on a full-time or part-time basis, but would remain WAPS students. Rochester District teachers would teach the Rochester Schools curriculum, she said. Students would take the courses using an online platform from Google. They would also receive a laptop from WAPS, Freiheit said at the Aug. 4 board meeting. For students taking a part-time course, WAPS would provide space and supervision, she said. A director from WAPS will oversee students in the program, with support from a director from Rochester, she added.
For a student to take a one-semester course, WAPS would pay $375, and for a full-time student, WAPS would pay $2,250 per semester. Since the district receives about $6,500 per student from the state, the remaining funds would go to WAPS covering services, including social work and special education, Freiheit said in July. The district projected the cost of WOLA to be approximately $839,000 in 2023 and estimated that the cost would represent a substantial increase over past program expenditures. Chief Financial Officer Sarah Slaby did not respond to questions about revenues, expenses and costs per student for WOLA compared to the partnership with Rochester.
WAPS students who take online classes while living within district boundaries can also participate in WAPS activities, Freiheit said.
Freiheit said district staff will follow up with families to see if they are interested in registering.