Northern Kane drops board approval process
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org June 28, 2013 12:38PM
Updated: August 2, 2013 6:16AM
PINGREE GROVE — Northern Kane Educational Corp. has “suspended action” on the proposal for the Illinois Online Charter School it presented during a public hearing last month to the Community Unit School District 300 Board of Education, according to CEO Larry Fuhrer.
But, Fuhrer said, that doesn’t mean it’s given up on its plans to offer the same “blended” virtual learning to students in kindergarten through grade 12 in school districts across the state as it does to students at Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove.
Rather, it’s now taking its proposal directly to those other districts.
“The concept that could not be grasped was that issuing another charter does not give us any authority we didn’t have. It just gave us another entity to do it,” he said.
Fuhrer had presented Northern Kane’s proposal for the Illinois Online Charter School to the school board in mid-May.
That came at the same time Virtual Learning Solutions, a nonprofit with a St. Charles post office box, presented its proposal for a multi-district virtual charter school to the Carpentersville school board, as well as 17 others across the Fox Valley. That proposal was rejected by every school district, and Virtual Learning Solutions later dropped the appeal it had made to the Illinois Charter School Commission.
It also came at the same time Illinois legislators passed House Bill 494, which puts a one-year moratorium on all new online charter schools.
District 300 board members expressed confusion at that public hearing why the Carpentersville-area school district would authorize the online charter school when its students already receive those services from the current charter school and Cambridge Academy. The Illinois Online Charter School would offer those services only to students outside the district.
District 300 Superintendent Michael Bregy confirmed that after more than a month had passed since the public hearing without a vote, Northern Kane had “rescinded” its proposal.
“There was some speculation on whether that fit into that moratorium piece or not, and we believe that it does. But regardless, they did withdraw their own application,” Bregy said.
Fuhrer has pointed to a line in House Bill 494 that says the moratorium does not apply to a charter school with “virtual-schooling components existing or approved prior to April 1, 2013, or the renewal.”
But it’s that confusion that led the charter holder to drop the proposal, according to the CEO. Instead, he said, “I’m doing it the way we could have done it all along.”
‘Two Up/Two Down’
That means offering the blended services Northern Kane already has to other districts across the state under the banner of the Illinois Online Charter School, the same as any other vendor offers services to school districts, he said.
Already, Fuhrer said, he has about 20 meetings set up with superintendents in districts across the state.
Northern Kane now has what it calls a Two Up/Two Down program that offers blended virtual programming to Cambridge Lakes students who are working two grades ahead or two grades behind their grade level. More than 70 students now are part of Two Up/Two Down, and some of the advanced students who pioneered the program now are three grade levels ahead.
It also offers programming to high school students through the Cambridge Academy.
Those programs are both “high-tech” and “high-touch,” including a blend of online learning and hand-on activities with teachers, Fuhrer said.
“The one thing we will not do is we will not mention ‘virtual,’ because we’re not a virtual school. We’re a high-touch, high-tech proposition, and the districts are, in fact, our partners in the approach we were taking in either case,” he said.
In other districts, that “high-touch” component could look like Northern Kane helping to train a teacher on that district’s staff to support students the same way Cambridge Lakes’ teacher mentors do, the CEO said. Or it could “go to the place where our certified employment group actually employs someone to assist the district in the implementation of services,” he said.
He plans to begin offering programming to other districts through the Illinois Online Charter School this fall, he said.