Battle Ground Public Schools is changing the landscape of its online education options next year in an effort to streamline remote learning and access a larger pool of students.
At the heart of the change is the splitting of River Online from its umbrella school, River HomeLink — a K-12 alternative school that currently provides in-person and online options. Starting this fall, River Online will be the sole online learning experience in the district.
In the coming weeks, Battle Ground will be polling to create an entirely new name for the online-only academy.
“What we are proposing is to create one online program for this school district,” director of instructional leadership Travis Drake said when the change was proposed at the Dec. 12 board meeting. “There’s a few reasons to do this. One, it allows River Online to grow and expand in ways that are a challenge for them to do under the umbrella of River HomeLink. That’s through no one’s fault.”
There are a couple of core reasons for the shift, Drake said, leading with an explosion in demand for online learning since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When River Online began accepting students in 2013, it had about 13 full-time students. Today, Drake said, the school serves 257. There are another 87 total students taking at least one online class between Prairie and Battle Ground high schools.
The demand has stretched River HomeLink staff thin, with some teachers having to cover both in-person and online classes or shift to totally online in recent years. Splitting River HomeLink from online education, he said, would allow that school to continue its own learning model independently.
Another reason for the pivot is to compete with other local districts such as Ridgefield and Camas, each of which also maintain online learning academies already. Wisdom Ridge Academy, Ridgefield’s online learning experience, began accepting students from throughout Washington this past fall in an effort to further access untapped student populations.
Welcoming statewide applicants
Battle Ground will also accept students for the online school from anywhere in the state starting fall 2024. The hope is that expanding the pool of prospective students may help increase district enrollment, which has declined or stalled since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We do believe that over the long run, we will be able to recruit students throughout the state, but more significantly from our region, by providing an online academy, which could boost our overall enrollment, which would be good,” Superintendent Denny Waters said.
Students who are currently enrolled in one or more online classes through their neighborhood schools, whether it’s Prairie or Battle Ground, will not see any changes in their education.
“Let’s say that you were taking first- and second-period online classes in the library,” Drake said. “That’s exactly how it would look next year: the same library, same staff at Battle Ground. The only change is you’d be a shared student between Battle Ground High School and this new online academy.”
District officials say the cost to make this change is expected to be minimal, though they may look to hire additional teachers.
For more information on the change, visit the district’s webpage: https://riv.battlegroundps.org/online-learning-changes.