The Madison School District is expanding its new online learning program to include fourth- and fifth-graders while temporarily pausing it for 11th- and 12th-graders next year.
The Madison Promise Academy, which the district piloted this school year with students in grades 6-12, will temporarily halt services for the two oldest grades next year in an effort to accommodate younger learners, district spokesperson Tim LeMonds said.
The district’s goal is to ramp up enrollment to include 11th-graders in the program at the start of the 2023-24 school year, and to include students in grade 12 the following year, TJ McCray, the district’s director of instructional technology, said during a Madison School Board meeting Monday.
McCray plans to incorporate advanced learning opportunities as well for students in the online program in the 2022-23 school year.
All students, including current online students, who are interested in the program are encouraged to apply before May 27 for the upcoming school year. The district will limit capacity to 350 students for the program, with 200 slots available for students in grades 4 and 5 and 150 slots available for students in grades 6-10. McCray plans to increase student capacity each year.
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“What’s driving those numbers is the staffing,” he said.
The program currently has four full-time teachers for students in grades 6-12. In the coming year, McCray plans to add one full-time physical-education teacher, one full-time business teacher and one full-time Spanish teacher. Three full-time teachers plus a full-time music and art teacher will also be added in the coming school year to support elementary student learning.
The plan to expand comes after the board voted 4-3 in March to approve an increase to the instructional technology budget by $850,000 to expand the Madison Promise Academy to include students in grades 4-12 using federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funds for the 2022-23 school year.
Board president Ali Muldrow, vice president Savion Castro, and members Ananda Mirilli and Maia Pearson voted in favor of the motion, while board members Nicki Vander Meulen, Chris Gomez-Schmidt and Cris Carusi voted against it. Carusi and Mirilli left the board in April.
Board members who voted against the motion expressed their support for the online option but concern about using the one-time ESSER funds to hire permanent staff for a long-term program.
McCray said in March that he sought early approval for the academy’s expansion before the 2022-23 budget is finalized so he could begin the search and hiring process to secure staff for the online school.
McCray said he hopes to recruit teachers for the academy earlier than last year to avoid some of the confusion and frustration experienced by students and families at the start of the 2021-22 school year. He said that with the early approval he hopes to identify students who plan to enroll in the academy for the coming school year before school lets out in June.
Madison Promise Academy’s pilot online school for students in grades 6-12 had twice as many students apply as the district planned for at the start of the 2021-22 school year. More than 450 students applied to be part of the academy’s first year; 234 were accepted and 218 were put on a waiting list.
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