Urban Cyber School, the first cyber charter school that would be based in York County, had its first big test on Monday.
Officials from the school faced four hours of grilling from the Department of Education as part of an informational hearing. The department will decide in coming months whether to approve the school.
Urban Cyber was founded by 3Cord Inc., an educational management organization based in York that already manages New Hope Academy Charter School.
New Hope's fate is in the state's hands as well, as it awaits a charter appeal board date after York City turned down its renewal request.
The Urban Cyber School, though, would go far beyond York City if it opens next fall. The school has a goal each year of getting 250 new sixth- 12th-grade students, primarily from inner city areas around the state, who are at risk of failing.
But unlike some cyber schools, Urban Cyber wants to get students involved in the classroom, too. Denise Stouffer, assistant managing officer of 3Cord Inc., testified at a cyber charter board Monday morning in Harrisburg that there are initial plans for a local brick-and-mortar presence by using YWCAs.
The YWCA will provide classroom space and a place for physical education. The York, Lancaster and Harrisburg locations would be the first offered as a "hub," Stouffer and other officials said. That way, students could get a blended learning experience - they could learn strictly online with video instruction, online chats and interactive software, or they could attend some classes in person at a hub.
The hub would also be a place to do community activities, have parent-teacher meetings, meet with local student mentors, or get tutoring. Students would be provided computers and home broadband Internet access as needed, with the hubs also serving as a cyber café.
The state board will have a written decision by January.
If approved, students from York or anywhere in the state could enroll. The tuition is paid by the district in which the student resides.
Some concern: The Education Law Center, an educational advocacy organization based in Philadelphia, spoke before Urban Cyber's testimony, saying the state can't handle the cyber schools it already has.
The cyber schools in existence have not performed up to state standards in most cases, according to state data, and the cyber charter funding formula has drawn criticism from districts and even cyber schools.
"It should give the department great pause before approving any other cyber charters," said Education Law Center representative Marnie Kaplan. "It would be an inefficient use of public funding."
The school also drew criticism from Coatesville School District, whose attorney said in her comments that putting urban students online for school doesn't remove them from their bad neighborhoods.
Urban Cyber's proposed management agreement with 3Cord also drew some questions from the panel. The agreement appears to be somewhat similar to what 3Cord has with New Hope Academy, with Urban Cyber paying a flat 15 percent management fee each year to 3Cord Inc.
Urban Cyber would also pay out a 50 percent split of any surplus each year. 3Cord Inc. founder Isiah Anderson said it's incentive based and the school would have to meet certain academic standards before the split is paid out.
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