Westmoreland IU 7: Cyber learning flexes to meet the needs of school districts

Westmoreland IU 7’s eAcademy has followed two abiding principles since its founding in 2008: Save money, and deliver quality, locally controlled cyber learning.

By any measure, the effort succeeds. Participating districts, in total, save more than $1 million a year, while students pursue cyber studies in rigorous courses tailored to their home districts’ curriculum.

School districts originally sought help creating cyber programs “that were more homegrown” than off-the-shelf options, says Curriculum Services Director Timothy Hammill.

With teacher training and back-office support from “silent partner” IU 7, districts acquired the flexibility and capabilities to shape programs to their own needs. Students can take one course or entire loads, sometimes accessing classes their own districts don’t offer. Teachers learn to transform their courses into dynamic online offerings. Since the cost of an eAcademy course is nearly half the cost of most other cyber solutions, districts save on their cyber costs.

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve saved millions of dollars for our districts,” says Hammill. “We are built to be whatever the school district wants us to be.”

Plus, a bonus outcome: Cyber learning demands discipline and focus, and eAcademy allows districts to monitor each student’s progress and keep them on track academically.

“If they had left for a cyber situation, they literally could go the whole year and fail,” says Hammill. “The next year, they’re coming back to their old school a whole year behind.”

eAcademy serves about 22 school districts annually. For the 2017-18 school year, the program will reach about 3,000 course enrollments for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Today, eAcademy has grown through its attention to course content, teacher training, and collaboration, Hammill says. The result is a cost-effective approach that benefits schools “financially as well as instructionally.”

“It’s that ownership we have as a community of schools working together to offer the solution,” he says. “Even as the IU, we don’t maintain ownership of content. It belongs to our schools. It’s our schools’ work. Our schools have a vested interest in what’s being done, and they are benefitting more as a result.

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