Nevada students click into virtual school |

Nevada students click into virtual school

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer

Somewhere between the freedom of homeschooling and serving time in homeroom detention lies the untapped world of online education.

Now that too has come to the Carson City School District.

Nevada Connections Academy – touted as the state’s only “virtual school” – will, for the first time, open its virtual doors for the 2007-08 school year.

The national accredited academy, which has curriculum for fourth through eleventh grades, is touted by state officials as a “proven entity” with 10,000 students in 14 states.

The Nevada Department of Education approved the private company’s entry into the Silver State in June.

“I think looking at it, the only concerns I recall the state board having is they don’t know how to serve kindergarten to third grade,” said Dr. Keith Rheault, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “It’s a well-established curriculum, well-funded and backed from a national program for all types of students.”

Connections Academy, founded in Oct. 2001, was sold in 2003 to Educate Inc., a company that runs Sylvan Learning Center – North America’s largest network of tutoring centers – as well as creators of the reading program “Hooked on Phonics.”

The biggest misperception of the Connections Academy program is that it’s akin to homeschooling, one Connections Academy spokeswoman said.

“This is the opposite of homeschooling,” said Carrie Jean Ross, state development manager and mother of two enrolled in Connections Academy. “It’s a public school program outside the classroom.

“Homeschooling is directed by the parents. There’s no accountability to the state. We don’t look at this as homeschooling, but as a public school outside the school.”

Statewide, Nevada Connections Academy is slated to enroll about 500 students for its inaugural school year in Nevada, Ross said.

The tuition will be reimbursed by each school district, using the money allocated per student.

In the Carson City School District, that amount is $6,037 per student per year.

This amount will cover all books, a computer and support staff including a principal and teachers. Staff will be housed in an office in Reno and made available for Northern Nevada students to meet with.

“We’re a virtual school provider, but we give the framework for the school,” Ross said. “We provide the textbooks, computer systems – it’s like a turn-key school.

“Nevada Connections Academy was given its own charter and they answer directly to the state board of education. They’ll have their own principal and their own teachers. The teachers see how (students) are doing on a daily basis.”

Students are also able to meet with the principal and teachers five days a week at the time of their choosing, Ross said.

For families with single parents or two working adults, the school is still a reality, one official said.

“We actually ask responsible adults be with the student during the day, but the parent is not expected to do any of the teaching,” Ross said. “My husband and I both work full-time and our children do this.”

Rheault emphasized Connections Academy can work for virtually any student.

Such a school, he noted, is overdue in Nevada.

“It’s sweeping the country, but you have to monitor it closely,” he said. “There’s a lot of students taking this program. We’re actually a few years behind in Nevada. In Florida, the state school system has already adopted its own virtual school system.”

• Contact staff writer Andrew Pridgen at or 881-1219.