by ALEXANDRA RETTER
To provide online learning, Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) may partner with Rochester Public Schools. Earlier this summer, the school board ended the district’s previous online learning program, the Winona Online Learning Academy (WOLA).
When the school board voted to end WOLA, it also asked Superintendent Annette Freiheit to report on other online learning opportunities. Freiheit recommended the partnership with Rochester at the July 21 school board meeting. She said WAPS students would remain district students but could access online classes through Rochester on a full-time or part-time basis. Rochester teachers would teach the Rochester curriculum, she said, through an online platform from Google. To become fully accredited by the state for WOLA, the district would have incurred additional costs, administrators said earlier this summer. Now WAPS can use Rochester’s online program. “The reason I like this is that it allows us to retain some of our public funding, but it also forces us to provide special education and additional services as such to students who are enroll in it,” Freiheit said. She added, “I think it’s a good plan to meet the needs of students who still want online learning, but may also need additional services.” For example, students with a case manager could keep the same case manager, she says.
WAPS students who live in the district but register online at another school can also participate in WAPS activities, Freiheit said.
The district would pay $375 per student for a one-semester course, Frieheit said, or $2,250 per semester for a full-time student. The district receives about $6,500 per student in state funding, she said, so the remaining funds would cover services such as counseling, social work and special education, she said. she stated. WAPS estimated that WOLA would cost approximately $839,000 in 2023 and that the cost would represent a steep increase over previous program costs.
A few school board members raised questions about the academic aspects of the program. School board member Steve Schild asked if the Rochester program would fit in with WAPS students’ school plans. Freiheit said that should be the case because both districts operate under the same national standards.
To date, the district has notified WOLA families that the board has terminated the program and that the district is investigating other online learning options, Freiheit said. WAPS has also reached out to families to enroll them in in-person classes at WAPS if they wish, she said. A few chose to enroll in another virtual school, she said. Meanwhile, some families are interested in online learning and staying at WAPS, she said. “And I think that would give them a really good opportunity,” she said.
The school board will likely vote on the proposed partnership at its next meeting on Aug. 4 at 6 p.m. at Winona High School.