Guest Column: Changes in store for the eLearning Café
September 23, 2013
Kudos to former Principal Cooper and her team for scoring the district's highest increase in graduation rate last year. While many factors go into achieving such a success, one of them was Ms. Cooper's creative use of the public-private partnership with the eLearning Café.
Thirty-two percent of the graduating class — 21 out of 65 seniors — took one or more challenging, accredited courses with us, from credit recovery to Advanced Placement.
Six of these students could not have graduated on time (or perhaps at all) without the option to meet graduation requirements through eLearning Café offerings. And that's just Incline High.
Our students now range across 14 time zones, from New York to Japan, where our instructors videoconference with students at least weekly.
With this profound academic success comes a change in our focus from community learning center to "school of the future," dedicated to working intensively with part-time and full-time students, grades 6-12.
Beginning this week, you will see eLearning Café signs replaced with "I•School," acknowledging our focus on individualized education. We have also opened a second, larger location in Reno, in a historic home just west of the downtown art museum.
While parents and students pay for these courses (we receive no public funding), the receipt of several significant foundation grants following exceptionally generous local donations this summer means we will not have to turn away students for lack of ability to pay for instruction.
The broad local support of the eLearning Café was significant in attracting the attention of large national organizations interested in the future of our "blended" means of education. Thank you all.
With this new focus, it is imperative that we identify new space to provide quiet areas for instruction and testing and to eliminate distractions from noise and congestion.
We have temporarily moved from our space next to Azzara's (we miss the nightly aromas of wonderful meals) and are now located between Potlatch and La Casona. Our writing classes are now held in one of the classrooms at St. Patricks, thanks to the generosity of its vestry.
For the long term, however, we will begin a capital campaign in the near future to fund suitable permanent space.
Our preferred location, due to proximity to the high school, is the southernmost building in Starbucks plaza, which offers several small classrooms and has been vacant for five years.
The Midwest-based owners of the plaza will not lease to a non-profit, so we hope to raise sufficient funds to purchase the building, which has significant underground parking and plenty of room for growth.
This year also expect improvements in the "back office" side of operations which has struggled to keep up with our academic success.
This will include direct parent access to real-time student progress, improved communications and a frequently updated list of courses offered.
What you will see less of are many of the community-centered activities, such as Photoshop classes, guest lectures and newcomer coffees.
We had hoped to relocate many of these offerings to the Incline library in return for providing staff to increase library hours from 30 to 70 hours a week.
Despite plenty of local support for the idea, increasing library hours and offerings unfortunately will not happen due to strong opposition from the county library administrator.
We will continue to offer bridge on Wednesday nights, elementary school tutoring in math and writing, and technology instruction for adults. Just no "café."
All in all, we are excited about our new direction in this third year of operation. Here's to working hard towards even greater academic success this year in Incline, and beyond.
Joe Sweeney is a member of the Board of Directors of the eLearning Café/I•School. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.