iSpy April: School Edition

Insider Tips for Mid-Valley Families

School Choices
Parents want an excellent education for their children, but with so many choices it can be hard to know what is best. Educational alternatives are more plentiful now than ever before, leaving parents with many options. If you are questioning your current educational choice, then now is the time to  see if there is a better fit.

A good first step is to investigate the options. By evaluating each selection based not only on your child’s needs and learning style, but also on the family’s beliefs, finances, and desires, parents can bring clarity to this most important decision.  Let’s look at the available selections in our area.kids in school

Public School
Charter School
Online School
Private School
Homeschooling

UnschoolinG

Public Shools
Public schools are a successful and popular option in our area. According to the Oregon Department of education’s report card, the Corvallis School District’s class of 2015 had a graduation rate of 86% which is 12 points above state averages. The district is proud of the results. Parental involvement and the district’s focus on academic achievement has resulted in overall growth with all levels being above the median growth metrics statewide. High school reading and math received level 5, the highest rating.

The Greater Albany School District has similar graduation results which are all above state averages. They also site that 93.5% of their students either graduate with a diploma (whether it’s modified or extended or a regular diploma) or get a GED within five years of entering High School, which is 12 points above state averages.  Their success is in no small part due to its dedication to partner with families, ensuring that students receive an excellent education, allowing for them to become a successful citizen. Local area report cards can be viewed at http://www.ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/reports.aspx

Public schools are funded with federal, state and local tax dollars; there are no additional fees to attend. They have educational standards set by each state, and have state guidelines on instruction and child’s evaluation. Here in our area, the traditional public schools utilize a tool called pinnacle which is a valuable online system for parents and students to view grades, assignments, attendance, and other student information. It is an important link between home and school.

Some public school districts allow for their families to pick any school within the district for their student to attend, as long as the school is not filled to capacity. Brenda Downum, Communications Coordinator  at Corvallis School District says, “Our school district has a school choice policy which means that families may choose to enroll their child in any of our schools when there is capacity to do so.” She says that families first enroll in their local school and then request a transfer.

Another choice in the Corvallis School District is through their dual language immersion schools. Dual Language Immersion schools include Garfield Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Linus Pauling Middle School, and Corvallis High School. Brenda Downum advises us that, “Students living within the Garfield and Lincoln school boundaries have enrollment priority, enrollment for students in other school boundary areas is decided by a lottery.” More details are available on their website.

Today’s public schools encompass more than just traditional neighborhood schools.  It also includes Charter Schools, Online Schools, Virtual Schools, and in our district, a 100% transfer (non-boundary) school.

Franklin— 100% Transfer School 

This is a K-8 public “school of choice” in the Corvallis School District that has no attendance boundaries. Franklin uses the nationally-accredited core knowledge curriculum. The school has a community feel where parents are welcomed and involved. It is a 100% transfer school. District transfers for Franklin reopen each March, and can be requested on the Corvallis District website at http://csd509j.net/  For more information about Franklin, call their office at (541) 757-5747.

Charter Schools
Charter schools are tuition-free public schools, but they are funded differently and do not have borders for attendance. You do not need a district transfer or permission from your resident school to attend.  Most charter schools have waiting lists and their own admission process. Locally-sponsored charter schools include Muddy Creek (K-5) in the Corvallis School District and Kings Valley Charter School (K-12) in the Philomath School District.

Young woman sitting at desk using laptop, in student dormitory

Online Schools
Albany Online is our only local full-time online K-12 school. Students from Albany and neighboring communities are welcome to enroll. Albany Online has resources for children on IEPs, with a physical site for extra support, lunch, academic assistance, electives, music and PE. They use the K12 and FuelEd curriculums. Learning can happen anyplace with an internet connection. Lessons, attendance, materials,  and teacher interactions are conducted both online and offline. Each family is provided with necessary materials including textbooks, CDs, videos, and hands-on tools. The enrollment process is easy and upon graduation, students receive a fully accredited diploma. Visit www.albany.k12.or.us for information on all Albany Public Schools including Albany Online. An important aspect of using Albany Online, is that students are still enrolled in the school district.

A virtual school educates students online. All necessary materials are provided. Some virtual schools even pay for internet service, so the student can access lessons online. A state-licensed teacher oversees instruction, testing, and government accountabilitystandards— just as in a traditional public school. The child will also take state tests with the same standards and times lines as any other student in public schools to make sure they are learning on pace with their peers. The student’s performance is monitored closely by the school district in which the virtual public charter school is located and the State Board of Education. In addition, the Oregon Department of Education works closely with Oregon’s virtual public charter schools to gather data on the quality of the education they are offering.

The schools aren’t always local. When meeting with teachers in person is not possible, regular communication is received through email, phone, and online. Some virtual schools have organized outings and field trips for all their students who are in each general area. According to Oregon Virtual Schools, virtual public education is paid with public funds. There are currently 13 virtual public charter schools in Oregon with a combined enrollment of about 7200 students (in the 2014-2015 school year). This can be an option for children who may not fit into a traditional school setting.  Gifted learners, children who need one-on-one instruction, children with medical challenges or those who just don’t prefer the traditional setting may benefit from this educational option. Insight School of Oregon, Oregon Connections Academy, and Oregon Virtual School District are all virtual schools in Oregon. More information can be found at www.oregonvirtualschools.org.

private schoolPrivate Schools
There are 27 private schools in Benton and Linn counties with almost 3000 students combined. About 65 % of the private schools in our area are religious and the rest are secular/independent; they all charge tuition but some have limited need-based scholarships available. Most private schools tailor the curriculum, learning opportunities and school environment around school beliefs, mission statements, ideologies, and their student population. Class sizes are smaller with an average of a 13:1 ratio, in our area.

Some have sports, drama, foreign language instruction, and some do not. Since private schools are directed and owned privately, they vary greatly, making it necessary to investigate each school individually. Asking questions and setting up a tour is a great initial step. For a list of private schools and some basic information visit  http://www.privateschoolreview.com/oregon/linn-county and http://www.privateschoolreview.com/oregon/benton-county.

Homeschooling
Some parents feel it is best to educate their children outside of a traditional public or private school, usually in the family’s home. Homeschool has increased in popularity in recent years.  Parents are able to be involved in every aspect of their child’s education, and tailor it to their exact needs. Even though homeschool is not accredited, community colleges, the military and many universities admit homeschool students each year.

There are laws surrounding homeschool, so become educated before taking your children out of school. The homeschool laws in Oregon are not burdensome or complicated. A summary can be found at the web site www.oceanetwork.org or http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/results/?id=74. Homeschool conferences are a great way to be immersed in the homeschool3homeschool lifestyle and get great information, and even examine curriculum before you buy it. The Ocean Network is holding their annual 2-day homeschooling conference June 23-24, at the convention center in Portland. Parents can attend workshops ranging from how to get started, to more specific topics such as teaching children with learning disabilities. They can shop the vendor hall and the used curriculum sale. People come from all over Oregon for this event. For more information visit http://www.oceanetwork.org/calendar/conference/.

Many homeschool families find support groups as an important addition to their educational plan. The Linn Benton Lincoln Education Service District (LBL ESD) is a resource for homeschooling laws, support groups, testing, and you can request a homeschool packet there too visit www.lblesd.k12.or.us/homeschool for access to these resources.

Unschooling
Unschooling is a form of homeschool that is very child-led. According to the LBL ESD, the central philosophy of unschooling is child-directed learning. Unschooling varies greatly.unschooling At one end of the spectrum some families embrace an environment where the child is in charge of what, when, how, where, and why they learn. At the other end there are parents who require some subjects to be completed using a more traditional approach, but allow others to be focused on the child’s interest. Many unschool families view life as the classroom with the world being full of vast learning opportunities. Unschool families follow the same state guidelines as homeschool families with required testing and reporting.

The Decision
Making changes in your children’s education isn’t easy. It can seem long and daunting, but it is greatly beneficial in the long run. Finding an educational setting that fits the needs of your children while molding to the families’ lifestyle is worth the time and effort.  The best educational choice excites your children’s  love of learning and propels them to excel to their fullest ability which is a precious gift we can give to our children.

By Wendy Sinclair

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