by Marcia Cavanagh
On April 26th, the proposed Harrisburg School District’s Recovery Plan was presented to the public by Chief Recovery Officer Gene G. Veno. The Plan focuses on two major components—improving school performance and maintaining financial stability within the District.
One of the ways Veno has submitted to do this is an upgrade of the district’s Cougar Academy. Started just a year ago, the Cougar Academy is a cyber school exclusively for Harrisburg School District students. Through multiple initiatives, Veno suggests an aggressive program to develop, expand and promote it. The goal is to increase the number of students within the Harrisburg School District who choose cyber education.
Harrisburg’s Cougar Academy is a partnership between the district and the Capital Area Online Learning Association (CAOLA). CAOLA was founded through the Capital Area Intermediate Unit in order for local districts to offer online instruction and compete with the rising number of cyber options. CAOLA provides the curriculum, certified teachers, and administration yet students who attend Cougar Academy graduate with a Harrisburg School District degree. Students are also able to participate in district extracurricular activities such as band and athletics.
Students enrolled in the Cougar Academy are provided a computer, printer, and Internet access and reimbursement to the CAOLA programs.
Currently, any 9th to 12th grade student taking classes in the Harrisburg School District is eligible to enroll at the Cougar Academy. CAOLA requires those who are interested to fill out a questionnaire in order to work with district guidance counselors to determine if a student is good candidate for online learning.
According to the Chief Recovery officer, it is vital the Harrisburg School District sets itself up to compete academically with the growing amount of educational options. “It is clear that the failure of the Harrisburg School District to meet the academic needs of students has caused parents to see alternatives to the traditional school setting,” the Plan reads. It’s cited in 2013 approximately 672 Harrisburg students were enrolled in charter schools, and about 70% of them attended cyber charter schools.
The district pays $3,000 tuition for each student who is enrolled in the Cougar Academy. That’s approximately $7,000 less the district pays per student enrolled in a competitor cyber charter school. It’s estimated Harrisburg School District’s payments to charter schools will exponentially increase over the next few years; however, if more students enroll in the Cougar Academy, it could be a significant positive fiscal impact for the district.
In order to attract more students, the Recovery Plan proposes the district:
- conduct a study to understand why parents and students choose cyber schools
- hire a Director of the Cougar Academy
- expand the Cougar Academy to include K-8
- modify the Cougar Academy based on proven methods such as hybrid programs, early graduation, educational support
- develop a communications campaign to promote the Cougar Academy
- Based on the success of these initiatives, it is projected enrollment at Cougar Academy will grow to 50 students next year, 100 students in 2014-15 and 50 students each subsequent year as the district grows and expands its cyber options.
To pay for the upgrades, modifications, and promotion of the Cougar Academy, about $630,000 would be used from a $6.44 million no-interest transitional loan the Commonwealth is offering. The funds are only available to the district if the Harrisburg School Board of Directors vote to accept the Recovery Plan within 30 days.
For more information on the current Cougar Academy, see here.
To read the Harrisburg School District Recovery Plan, click: HSD Proposed Recovery Plan. Page 25 is an overview of the Cougar Academy, and pages 37-39 outline specific initiatives to upgrade and modify it.