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North Hills turns to Internet to offer summer school

Tony LaRussa

Online education has all but eliminated the need for students to sit in classrooms to make up failed classes during summer break, but most school districts don't run their own cyber summer schools because of tight finances.

North Hills is one of the few school districts in the region to offer online “credit recovery” programs that allow students to keep up with summer jobs, travel or simply study pool side.

Jeff Taylor, assistant superintendent of curriculum assessment and special programs, said North Hills' decision to offer summer school through the district's Online Academy @ North Hills came after Community College of Allegheny County stopped offering traditional “face-to-face” summer school.

“Up until 2008, the summer school program offered by CCAC was held at North Hills,” Taylor said. “When the college dropped its summer-school program we decided to offer an online summer school program for our students.”

The following year, North Hills opened up its program.

“Since students from around the area were already used to coming to North Hills for the community college program, we decided to start accepting them into ours,” said Taylor, adding that tuition revenue covers the roughly $24,000 cost of running the summer program.

Jennifer Beagan of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which offers online credit recovery courses through its Waterfront Learning program, said few districts offer online summer school because it's cheaper to direct students to programs like the one AIU operates.

“Our program has grown over the years because many school districts found they either don't have the staff or can't afford to pay a staff to operate their own programs,” said Beagan, the AIU's senior program director for teaching and learning. Between 500 and 700 pupils use the program each year.

Intermediate units are part of the state's public education system and provide specialized services.

Bryan Kiggins, who heads North Allegheny's school counseling department, said budget constraints and lack of teacher availability prompted his district to abandon its face-to-face summer school program.

“We moved to other districts' summer school programs, but over the years districts eliminated their programs and went to online credit recovery,” he said. “So NA followed suit and partnered with the AIU.”

Since its inception, North Hills' online summer program enrollment has fluctuated between about 90 and 100 middle- and high-school students.

Typically, the majority are from outside districts, Taylor said, though last summer's enrollment was 47 North Hills students and 37 students from 16 other school districts.

The program employs about 23 North Hills teachers who are paid a stipend based on their' contract, Taylor said. He added that for some classes, such as Mandarin Chinese, certified teachers not employed by the district are required.

Teachers don't have to travel to the North Hills. “They can teach the classes from home or even from the beach,” Taylor said.

Teachers can create video clips that students access to view presentations, and all tests are administered online, Taylor said. For classes such as physical education, students submit videos to demonstrate they have completed a course requirement, he said.

Credit recovery is available for math, English, science, social studies and health. Full-credit enrichment courses include health, language arts, mathematics, algebra I, literature, biology, physical education, contemporary art, computer applications, driver's education theory, SAT preparation and three foreign languages — Mandarin Chinese, Latin and German.

Tuition ranges from $115 for a three-week, half-credit course to $235 for a six-week, one-credit course. Tuition for eight-week enrichment courses ranges from $20 to $399.

While online curriculums offered by North Hills and the AIU program meet state standards, students must check with their districts to ensure classes they take qualify for credit toward graduation, Beagan said.

The state education department lists several online credit-recovery programs on its website, but doesn't track the number of school districts offering programs, said press secretary Nicole Reigelman.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or [email protected].


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