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Philadelphia District Plans to Open Online School

The Philadelphia school district, which has been plagued by budget woes and declining enrollment, has announced plans to open a virtual academy in an effort to lure students and families back to the system.

Superintendent William Hite predicted this week that the district could offer a "superior online educational experience."

The goal is to make the Philadelphia Virtual Academy the "preferred choice for parents and students who want a quality online education," Hite said in a statement.

The school would serve students in grades 6-12 and open next academic year, Hite said. District officials say the virtual academy fits within Hite's vision to create new, more flexible, and more innovative models for delivering education to students, within the system, which has sn estimated enrollment of about 138,000 K-12 students.

The district would run the academy through a partnership with Chester County Intermediate Unit, a regional education agency.

State-run virtual schools have become a fixture around the country: There are 27 of those schools in existence today, by the most recent count of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. But it's become increasingly common for city school districts to run their own online schools, said Susan Patrick, the president and chief executive officer of the association.

In fact, her organization predicts that district-run schools that offer online or blended learning (combining web-based and traditional methods) are likely to be the "largest area of growth in the next three years," Patrick said in an e-mail.

The new Philadelphia school would deliver courses entirely online, with academic schedules tailored to individual student needs, according to a district brochure touting the program. Students would have access to online tutors and mentors, and they would also have the option to receive in-person support at one of the academy's "drop-in learning centers" located through the city, according to the school system.

"Our goal is for every child to achieve mastery," the distict said. "If a student has not demonstrated mastery of a concept, they may be encouraged to study the material further, work with their teacher, retake a (similar) quiz, or rewrite an assignment."

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