Lawrence school district plans to add online classes to help prevent dropouts

Students on the brink of dropping out of school will be given another reason to stay on campus for the new year.

The Lawrence school district plans to add an online curriculum at both Free State and Lawrence high schools, a course structure designed to give such students the focus, freedom and flexibility to complete their studies.

For a district with a graduation rate of 85.8 percent, officials consider dedicating a few computers to help at-risk students stay connected to be a wise investment.

“The need is there,” said Sharen Steele, director of the district’s new Adult Education Center. “This district is being very forward-thinking. We really can’t continue to look at education in the same exact way we’ve always looked at it. We have to look at alternatives.”

The district is adding software licenses for the schools, tacked onto the district’s existing Diploma Completion Program, which last year helped 36 adults and eight high school students earn their diplomas. The district is buying 100 licenses, for $70,000, to be used for several programs during the coming year.

For the first time, some of those licenses will be used on computers at the high schools themselves. That way, students who may not feel comfortable with the schedule, the structure or other components of the school day may be able to continue and complete their course work via computer.

Now that such offerings have proven successful for students in the Diploma Completion Program, Steele said, it’s time to test them in the schools themselves.

Kim Bodensteiner, the district’s chief academic officer, describes the move as a “field test” for the coming year.

Steele said it would be a good opportunity to expand the program beyond the limit of 10 such students who can take part through the Diploma Completion Program. While adults in the program are able to take their courses at home, the students are required to come into the center — which beginning this year will be in the former Centennial School, 2145 La. — to do their work.

“The flexibility part is they don’t have to be here at 8 o’clock in the morning and stay till 3,” she said. “They just need to get 20 hours a week in. They can come at noon and stay till 8 o’clock at night if they want to.”

Specific plans for the in-school options at Free State and Lawrence High are still being formed. Counselors at the schools have been involved in determining who may enroll in such a system through the Diploma Completion Program, and will be expected to fill that same role for the in-school offerings.