The Norman School District is among four districts nationwide selected as sites for an online learning pilot program.
America's Promise Alliance — a nonprofit established by retired Gen. Colin Powell — is underwriting the approximately $1 million cost, over three years, for Norman Public Schools to offer a greater number and quality of online courses for students.
“We do get a great value for us from a financial standpoint, but it also enables us to accelerate the direction we wanted to go,” Superintendent Joe Siano said. “It's an infusion that allows us to accelerate our mission related to online opportunities.”
Siano said that for the past three years Norman schools have been using a variety of vendors to provide online education programs with the goal of giving students a broad array of options for both catching up and excelling academically.
The goal is to move to a blended learning environment in Norman that allows student to go from virtual courses that allow flexibility to traditional classroom settings, where students get the benefit of face-to-face interaction with a teacher.
“One of the things that we want to hold true to is that still the best relationship in terms of an instructional relationship is through the teacher and the student,” Siano said.
He said online coursework will offer students a wider variety and more flexibility in their course offerings.
The pilot program will focus on offering high school students in Norman credit recovery for classes that students have failed, as well as new courses such as Advanced Placement classes.
The Seattle-based online learning company Apex Learning is being used as the provider for the coursework.
Teachers in Norman are being trained how to use the software and online courses. This semester the schools will offer credit recovery courses online. Beginning the winter semester, students will be able to take a wider variety of courses online.
The other school districts selected for the pilot program are Miami-Dade Public Schools in Florida, St. Mary's Public Schools in Leonardtown, Md., and Cross County School District in Cherry Valley, Ark.
The districts were selected in part because of their demographics, which will assist with research being conducted in conjunction with the pilot programs.
Elizabeth Morgan, executive director of America's Promise Alliance's Grad Nation Campaign, said Norman was selected because of the high caliber of academics being offered there. Miami-Dade was selected because it was a large urban district. St. Mary's is a suburban district with a booming population, while Cross County is a rural district.
“These kinds of digitally based programs allow students to learn at their own pace at their own time,” Morgan said. “The idea today is to offer a wide variety of options for students to get a good education, be motivated and graduate and go on to post secondary education.”