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Justin Treptow, Head of
Minnesota Virtual Academy
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
of the discussion
Verne Johnson (chair), Paul Gilje, David Broden, Janis Clay, Clarence
Shallbetter, Sallie Kemper, Wayne Popham (phone), Jim Hetland (phone)
Summary of meeting:
Justin Treptow, Head of School for
Minnesota Virtual Academy (MNVA), describes the Houston, MN, organization
that provides on-line schooling for students in kindergarten through high
school. A state approved public school entity available to all Minnesota
K-12 students, MNVA offers families an online alternative whenever local
public or private school offerings do not appear to fit students' needs.
The school is the largest provider of public education delivered via the
Internet in Minnesota. It offers a broad curriculum, licensed teachers,
opportunities for social interaction and flexible 24-hour per day
scheduling. An involved parent or "learning coach" is a key component of
Welcome and introductions.
and Paul welcomed Justin Treptow to the Caucus to provide background on
another innovative approach to the delivery of public education. Treptow
participated via a conference call to his home in
MN. Treptow holds the dual MNVA titles of Head of School and High School
Principal. He joined MNVA as Principal in 2008 to help launch its online
high school. In 2007-08 he was a teacher of gifted/talented students for
Rochester Public Schools and from 2001-07, a math and gifted/talented
teacher with Oak Grove Middle School, Bloomington, MN. He holds a BS in
Elementary Education and Middle School Math from Winona State University,
and a Master in Educational Administration from St. Mary's University,
Winona, MN. Treptow was born in Blue Earth, MN and grew up in St. Charles,
Virtual Academy (MNVA) started by small school district.
MNVA originated ten years ago, when with the district facing declining
enrollment, Kim Ross, Superintendent of Houston Public Schools, looked for
ways to stem the resulting budgetary losses. Hoping to put
in the forefront of on-line education, Ross partnered with K12, Inc., in
Fairfax County, VA, an on-line curriculum developer. The result was MNVA,
one of the first on-line public schools in Minnesota. MNVA operates as a
district school of the Houston (MN) Public Schools. As such, it is
required to operate in compliance with all state laws regarding
attendance, compulsory testing, No Child Left Behind, etc. The school
started in 2001 with kindergarten through grade 2 and has added one grade
per year since. There are now three schools in the Houston Public School's
organization: MNVA K-12 on-line school; Summit Learning Center, an
alternative school; and traditional bricks-and-mortar elementary and high
school. MNVA is the largest of the online K-12 providers in Minnesota.
MNVA now has 2,000 students.
it remains a Houston ISD school, MNVA offers K-12 education statewide.
Separate from 500 local students enrolled in regular K-12 school, the MNVA
enrollment reached 2,000 this year, equally divided between grades K-8 and
high school. A majority of students are from the metro Twin City area, but
significant numbers as well are from
and the Rochester area. Only a small number of students hail from the
Houston area. All MNVA students are public school students working at
Enrollment tends to be somewhat fluid in that students are not always as
good a fit for the school as they might have expected to be. When it
becomes clear that a student is faltering, the school counsels his or her
family about moving on to other educational options that might be a better
fit. The goal is to help students succeed, not to grow MNVA's enrollment
numbers. Treptow estimates that of MNVA's elementary and middle school
enrollment, typically they will see 70% of students retained year-to-year
and 30% lost. In the high school, the retention rate is about 80%, with
about 20% leaving each year.
school accepts all students who apply, resulting in a population similar
to any large suburban school, with special education students, gifted
students, and everything else in a normal bell curve universe. Of MNVA's
2,000 students, 89% are enrolled as full time learners and 11% are
enrolled part-time for one or more individual courses to supplement their
traditional school's curriculum. This part-time arrangement allows
students in smaller schools to take Advanced Placement courses or foreign
language classes that may not be available to them due to lack of
sufficient demand and/or resources.
Normal state funding applies.
eligible for the same per-student state funding that is provided to any
district or charter school in Minnesota. That funding comes to the
district directly from the state's ADM (weighted pupils in average daily
membership) per pupil funding to support Minnesota Virtual Academy. The
district in turn provides MNVA its operating funds just it would for any
other district school.
Parents intimately involved.
enrolled student works at home with the close supervision of a parent,
relative, or other adult working as his or her "learning coach". This
requires that a committed adult be home and available to the student from
to 7 hours a day, five days a week. In kindergarten and primary grades,
the parent meets daily with the teacher either via Skype or via phone call
to assure that students are tracking at a reasonable pace and to build an
ongoing strategy to meet student needs. Often in these lower grades,
especially, teachers will arrange face-to-face visits with students and
parents at a local library. In answer to a participant's question Treptow
commented that MNVA does not simply reinforce home schooling; rather, he
says, it replaces home schooling.
All students have computers, Internet connection.
student in the elementary and middle school is lent a desktop computer and
printer/scanner by MNVA when first enrolled. High school students are
assigned laptops. This hardware is provided without cost regardless of the
family's financial status. The K12, Inc. on-line curriculum is taught and
supported by MNVA's teachers, who give live weekly lessons using
Elluminate. The Elluminate platform allows students to communicate
verbally with their teacher through the use of the students' computer
microphones and non-verbally through a chat window. Through the use of
Elluminate, Skype, and email communication the teachers are able to
conduct both class discussions and small group activities held in virtual
"break-out rooms". A student sitting at home in Fergus Falls can interact
with other students through Elluminate by the use of the whiteboard,
microphone, or chat line. In Elluminate teachers can use tools such as an
on-line file transfer mechanism which allows the teacher to "pass out"
materials during these live sessions. And all lessons are recorded so that
students may re-visit the session later or catch up with work when classes
are missed due to illness. Homework assignments are passed between student
and teacher via email and online drop boxes. Science labs are conducted by
teachers, transmitted via web-cam and recorded for future viewing. Even
group projects are possible via email and chat lines. Pacing of learning
varies from student to student, with some students learning much faster
and in greater depth alongside others needing more time to master the
Face-time with teachers, extracurricular and social activities is
the teachers for grades K-5 are not physically located in the Houston, MN,
area but rather are most often assigned to clusters of students in the
geographic region where the teachers reside. As a consequence, it is often
possible for teachers to have face-to-face time with students. In
addition, MNVA regularly schedules group activities held in
to which all students are invited. These often involve some form of
community service project, charity drive or social event where students
have the opportunity to interact with other MNVA students and their
teachers. Many MNVA students are involved in local theatre groups, choirs,
bands and athletic teams. It is possible for any MNVA student to arrange
an agreement with a local public school to join the local school's
Special curriculum developed by Virginia firm.
curriculum provided by Virginia-based K12, Inc., has been developed over
the years to address a variety of different learning styles and to meet
the needs of students with individualized content. A wide range of
abilities can be accommodated. Courses range in content from core,
comprehensive, and Honors classes to Advanced Placement topics. The
curriculum developer, K12, Inc., provides a curriculum product development
staff person to assist with the marketing of MNVA and to arrange some
school-wide events, such as an upcoming fall "homecoming dance" in the
metro area for MNVA high school students. In addition K12, Inc. provides
all online technical support to students and teachers via the K12
Faculty must meet all state requirements.
teachers are fully licensed and members of the Houston teachers' union. By
law, the school must maintain a ratio of one teacher per 40 enrolled
students in grades K-5, the same ratio required of all public schools.
Today MNVA has 73 K-12 teachers, two counselors, five student support
aides, three administrators, one elementary principal, one middle-school
assistant principal and one 6-12 principal, Mr. Treptow, who also doubles
as Head of School. MNVA recruits teachers in exactly the same manner as
other district schools. Retention of teachers has been very successful to
date. He pointed out that in spite of the fact that teachers are working
for an online school, they actually get to know their students and their
families quite well, especially since there is such great emphasis on
family involvement and on efforts to bring staff and families together for
Test scores close to state average.
answer to a participant's question, Treptow shared that MVA's K-8
standardized test scores are very close to the overall state average. Over
the past three years the MCA scores for the high school 9-12 have been
showing improvement on the MCA test.
Twenty per cent annual growth expected for next two years.
recent years, MNVA has enjoyed close to 20% annual enrollment growth.
Since online enrollment is fluid it is difficult to predict accurately,
but the school is hoping to see similar trends in the next two years.
There are competing online schools in
but MNVA remains one of the largest state wide online schools. He does
expect that growth will be enhanced especially as districts seek to offer
their enrolled students the option to take the more advanced AP or foreign
language courses via an online provider. Districts vary in their
enthusiasm with respect to sharing information about MNVA with their
students. Some are willing to be helpful to students who do not seem to
fit well with the district's traditional schools; some are less than
forthcoming about the alternatives available.
contends that the virtual school will continue to find growing acceptance
as educational technology advances and as families come to recognize that
jobs in the 21st century will require the kind of
computer-centered skill that a virtual education provides. However, he
cautioned that the state must continue to work on providing the necessary
bandwidth in all areas of the state in order to assure that this kind of
opportunity is available beyond the larger cities. He likened
access to "driving a model-T in an Indy 500 race"; it puts outstate
regions at a huge educational disadvantage. He also feels that much can
still be done in the near future to advance the hardware in order to
provide faster computing, automatic linkage to the Internet and real time
When parent is absent, other approaches are possible.
answer to a participant question, Treptow agreed that parental involvement
is key to the success of student enrolled in MNVA. In grades K-8, that
kind of close parental involvement is actually crucial. However it is
possible to engage a "surrogate coach". In cases of single-parent
families, a relative may serve as the learning coach to help students in
grades K-8. The 24-hour availability of the school works well for many
parents who need to help their children after working hours. Teachers on a
case by case basis may set up time after the work to meet with parents and
students whenever necessary. A participant pointed out those children who
do not have an adult in their lives to fill this critical coaching role
would likely not benefit from the MNVA model.
thanked Civic Caucus for the opportunity to share information about MNVA
and the Houston School District's forward thinking that led to its
creation. He stressed that online public school is a very good educational
option among many that the state provides. It will meet the needs of a
great many students who regardless of their background, native abilities
or learning style, deserve to be work-ready and socially well rounded at
the end of their public schooling and capable of becoming successful,
Thanks to Justin Treptow for a very helpful discussion of the Minnesota