LAND O’ LAKES — The number of Pasco County students taking online courses grows dramatically each year, but science teacher Staci Kreitz says people still possess misconceptions about what online education means.
“I’m not sitting around in my pajamas making it an easy day,” Kreitz said on a Pasco eSchool video shown to the school board last week.
Although she and her students aren’t face to face, she said they have regular interaction and she is available for a phone call from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Like regular classroom teachers, she spends time on the weekends grading or answering emails.
Kreitz, who teaches eight science subjects, worked with more than 300 students this year.
“That is important to know because it has been a challenging year of growth,” said JoAnne Glenn, principal of Pasco eSchool. “It seems like every board meeting we came and asked for more staff.”
The online school is doing that again.
Pasco eSchool is asking for 15 additional teachers in the 2014-15 budget, which the school board will discuss this summer. Right now, the school has 48 full-time teachers and nine adjuncts.
This past school year, students enrolled in 31,000 courses through Pasco eSchool, up from 14,000 in 2012-13 and 1,928 in 2009-10, the school’s first year.
Much of the growth has been fueled by a state mandate, phased in over the past three years, that requires high school students to take at least one online course to earn a diploma. The 2014-15 seniors will be the first graduating class that faced the online-class requirement.
That means Pasco eSchool serves not only its own full-time online students — it had 22 graduates this year — but others who need to meet the online requirement or, in the past, those who just wanted to take one or two classes online.
“Next year, we’ll be able to say we’ve touched nearly every student graduating,” Glenn told school board members at the workshop.
Because the courses are available via computer from anywhere, that service goes beyond the borders of Pasco County. In 2013-14, Pasco eSchool also served 50 students from other counties.
Board members generally were happy with what they heard about the online learning, but board member Steve Luikart, who is also a retired assistant principal, questioned whether eSchool teachers are handed too great a burden when they work with 300 students or more. Pasco eSchool is exempt from class-size amendment requirements, but Luikart said one reason for class-size restrictions is so teachers don’t juggle such a large workload.
Glenn agreed the teacher-student ratio is high, but she said the way online classes work is different because eSchool teachers do not supervise large groups of students all at once in the same way a classroom teacher does.
Superintendent Kurt Browning also agreed the student numbers for individual teachers can be excessive, but said “popularity drives that.”
“I’m very sensitive to that,” Browning said. “When I started hearing some of these numbers, I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”
He said the district discussed setting a cap on the number of students per teacher, but that would mean coming to the board to seek approval for hiring even more teachers.
Also, if students couldn’t take a class through Pasco eSchool because of a cap, they would turn to other providers, such as Florida Virtual School, and Pasco would lose the state funding for those students, Browning said.