Olentangy Valley News

Project 2020 report

Online courses increasingly offering college edge

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Online learning has the potential to change the face of the Olentangy Local School District and free up space in district buildings -- but it may not be for everyone.

That's one of the conclusions reached by Martin Johnson, chairman of a volunteer committee that's working to plot a course for the future of the district.

The undertaking is called Project 2020, and committee members released a 254-page report last month after more than two years of work.

The implementation of new technology is a major focus of the report.

High school students already have access to a growing number of online classes, and teachers increasingly integrate the Internet into lessons and homework assignments.

"But not every kid is going to be wired for an online environment," Martin said. "Some are going to do really well with that and others will do much better in a traditional classroom."

Martin updated the school board at a Feb. 25 meeting and released the new report, which details how the district might deal with issues ranging from overcrowding to the future of post-secondary education.

He said the focus has shifted since Project 2020 was conceived in 2011. At that time, officials were talking about how to fit an ever-increasing number of students into a finite number of school buildings and considering the possibility of constructing a fourth high school.

The district has seen rapid growth over the past decade, regularly adding nearly 1,000 students each year. New reports indicate enrollment won't plateau until the 2020-21 school year at 21,050 students.

But board members recently agreed most of the district's buildings can hold more students than prescribed capacity levels would indicate, and they're considering stop-gap solutions such as leasing space in another building.

One idea is to relocate all Advanced Placement classes to a rented space to free up room in the high schools; students taking those classes would travel to the new building during the school day.

"We've begun to not necessarily say that we've eliminated the need (for more buildings), but we've pushed that out far enough now that the district has some breathing space," Johnson said.

That's shifted the focus of Project 2020 to other pressing issues, such as how it can prepare students for college and jobs and how it should use the Internet and other technology in and out of the classroom.

Online courses already have a foothold in the district, and options such as the OASIS alternative education program are giving students choices, Martin said.

He said Olentangy also is seeking new partnerships with area colleges such as Columbus State.

That's helping students get a jump-start on their college education, said Superintendent Wade Lucas.

"I used to say we could get one year of college in their pocket," he said. "Now I think we can have an associate's degree in your pocket before you graduate from high school."

But the district should strike a balance between new and old educational options, Martin said. A survey of students conducted last year found most strongly value the traditional high school experience.

School board President Kevin O'Brien said board members will begin to consider the committee's report in the coming months.

"It's time to take the findings and start to work them into the fabric of our strategic plan," he said.

Project 2020 is far from over. Members will continue to work with district officials in the years ahead, Martin said.

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