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A Brick-and-Mortar Space for Online School

Facing the twin specter of state and local budget cuts, Falcon School District 49 in Peyton, Colo., has done “some pretty radical things” with technology that have enabled the district to survive without drastic staff cuts, according to Kim McClelland, assistant superintendent and innovation leader for one of various regions in the district. The moves even allowed teachers to receive a 2 percent raise for the 2012-2013 school year.

McClelland has been at the forefront of these  innovative having sold district administrators and board members in October 2011 on a $1.4 million project to convert an old light-manufacturing warehouse into a physical space that online students (who don’t otherwise have a physical space) can use when they need to congregate on projects or seek enrichment from teachers.

The building, which opened in August, contains a science lab and an art lab, a quiet zone where collaboration can take place, videoconferencing rooms so students can interact online with teachers, and “huddle rooms,” or meeting rooms, for students with special needs. Students, who come from all over the district, will probably start doing 70 percent of their work online and 30 percent in the building, but McClelland hopes it will become about 50-50 over time. “Right now it’s about responding to the need of our actual community,” she says. “We’ve talked to parents and gotten their input. We know we have a big need in math, for example, so we have all the students come in, meet with support coaches, and utilize more space for math.”

The space can house up to 200 students, and there will be five or six staff on hand at any one time. Students self-select into the online program, McClelland says, “which means they could be running away from something at a local school [such as bullying], or they’re looking for more of a challenge because of boredom in the class. Sometimes counselors might say, ‘This could be a really good choice for you.’”

McClelland doesn’t necessarily envision the new building will so much save the district money as increase the variety and quality of students’ educational options. McClelland believes the additional education option provided through Falcon Virtual Academy will help keep students in school and increase their academic achievement. “That it will save the district money is a myth,” she says.


Ed Finkel is a contributing writer to District Administration.