Altoona cyberacademy enrollment rises to 36

The Altoona Area School District’s homegrown cyberacademy is starting the school year with the most students in its six-year history, said cyber administrator and Altoona Area assistant 12th-grade principal Jason McGinnis.

“The program is rapidly growing,” he said during a school board meeting earlier this week.

“We have 36 kids to start the year. That’s the most I’ve ever started with. And 10 of those students are ones who are coming back to the district from other cybercharter schools,” he said.

Competing cybercharter schools that are deemed public schools by the Pennsylvania Depart­ment of Education siphon off significant numbers of students and, therefore, state funding, from districts, officials said.

However, with its own cyberschool program that provides laptops to students and curriculum delivered by Altoona Area teachers, the district has potentially saved hundreds of thousands of dollars from going to outside cyber­charter tuition, McGinnis said.

“In the 2017-18 year, we saved potentially $300,000. It was money we didn’t have to spend. If we didn’t have this program, our kids would have gone somewhere else, and we would have to spend for it,” he said.

Nonetheless, many students still choose cyberschools outside of the district. McGinnis said he sent 175 letters to families of students enrolled in other cyberinstitutions in grades 7 to 12.

Last year, Altoona Area graduated 24 students through its cyberprogram. That means those students graduated with an Altoona Area diploma. If they graduated through another cybercharter school, they would not have an Altoona Area diploma.

This year, undergraduate students are returning to Altoona Area’s cyberprogram, which is also expanding into the junior high school this year.

“Most of our students who were in the program last year are back. And those who are not returning are coming back to our traditional building. That’s one of the successful things of our program. They want to come back to the brick and mortar environment,” he said. “They are still part of our family.”

School board member Ron Johnston appreciated the work McGinnis was doing.

“Over past months and years, the number of outside cybercharter bills we’ve seen on our list of payments has been staggering,” he said. “Thank you for doing this.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.