Rochester Public Schools online option takes off in first year

The district first announced plans for the project last year, providing a permanent option for students who thrived in the online environment that formed when the pandemic forced students to take education at distance. The school board heard an update on the online school Tuesday night.

Although distance learning and the new virtual school – called RPS Online – are similar in appearance, those working in the new online school insist that it is a difference.

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“It’s not just DL (distance education) with a new name; we are our own school,” teacher Kim Hill told the school board. “I have been teaching for a very long time. What if you told me that I would fall in love with teaching in a virtual classroom where I couldn’t wrap my arms around my students and hug them… I would have told you that you were dreaming.

Andrew Neumann, director of RPS Online, reiterated this distinction between the current online school and the distance learning version that the district had to undertake during the pandemic.

“We are not DL 2.0; we learn online at its best, ”he said. “We are the only one of our kind, K-12, who is fully synchronous in state. And that sets us apart.”

There are 518 students enrolled in grades K-12 in the online school. Of this total, 161 are at the secondary level, 125 at the intermediate level and 232 at the elementary level.

The online option also has a great mix of students. According to Neumann, more than 60% of primary school students are minorities, more than 56% of high school students are minorities and nearly 59% of middle school students are minorities.

“We are one of the most diverse schools in the district,” Neumann said.

Due to the very nature of the school, it is able to attract students from far beyond the physical limits of Rochester Public Schools.

The school has 90 staff members who work for the school part time or full time. According to Neumann, only about half of this staff live in Rochester because, like students, they can connect from anywhere.

According to Jacque Peterson, executive director of RPS for elementary and secondary education, one of the teachers even lives in Georgia. They also hired a teacher in Arizona.

“With RPS Online, we can expand our network because teachers can teach remotely,” said Peterson. “So we’re probably in better shape than when schools try to hire staff in person.”

RPS Online is not the only online school available. It’s not even the only public school with an online option. And that begs the question: what sets RPS Online apart?

As Neumann noted, one of the benefits of RPS is that live teachers interact with students in real time, rather than just providing recordings. Peterson said another factor is that even though the school is online, it can meet students and tutors anytime in person. This means that there is a weekly pickup option if students need supplies for a project or something similar. The district is also providing meals to its students online, in the same way it did during the pandemic.

The school is expected to expand in the coming years. For its first year, the school has 56 course offerings. Neumann said he expects that number to double by next year to 126. RPS Online currently offers all the courses high school students need to graduate.

It remains to be seen how much he will be able to grow.

“Our plan is to develop this as much as possible, and especially at the high school level,” Peterson said. “This is what is interesting about the online school: the capacity is not limited by the size of our current school; the installations that are part of it are not even taken into account. Our goal is to serve children who want this option. ”

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