To provide online learning, Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) may partner with Rochester Public Schools. Earlier this summer, the School Board ended the district’s previous online learning program, the Winona Online Learning Academy (WOLA). 

When the School Board voted to end WOLA, it also directed Superintendent Annette Freiheit to report back with other online learning opportunities. Freiheit recommended the partnership with Rochester at the School Board’s July 21 meeting. She said WAPS students would remain students of the district but be able to access online courses through Rochester full or part time. Rochester teachers would be teaching Rochester curriculum, she said, delivered through an online platform by Google. To become fully accredited by the state for WOLA, the district would have incurred extra costs, administrators said earlier this summer. Now, WAPS may use Rochester’s online program. “Why I like this is that it does allow us to retain some of our state funding, but it also holds us to providing the special education and supplemental services as such for students who enroll there,” Freiheit said. She added, “I feel this is a good plan to meet the needs of students who still want the online learning but also may need extra services.” For instance, students with a case manager could keep the same case manager, she said. 

WAPS students who live in the district but enroll online at another school could still participate in WAPS activities, as well, Freiheit said. 

The district would pay $375 per student for a semester-long course, Frieheit said, or $2,250 per semester for a student attending full time. The district receives about $6,500 per student in state funding, she said, so the remaining funds would cover services such as counseling, social work and special education, she said. WAPS estimated WOLA would cost about $839,000 in 2023 and that the cost would be a large increase over past costs for the program.

A few School Board members raised questions about the academic aspects of the program. School Board member Steve Schild asked whether the Rochester curriculum would fit with students’ academic plans at WAPS. Freiheit said it should, as both districts operate under the same state standards. 

To date, the district notified families in WOLA that the board ended the program and the district was investigating other online learning options, Freiheit said. WAPS also contacted the families to enroll them in-person classes at WAPS if they chose, she said. A few chose to enroll in another virtual school, she said. Meanwhile, there are some families who are interested in online learning and staying at WAPS, she said. “And I think this would offer a really good opportunity for them,” she said. 

The School Board will likely vote on the proposed partnership at its next meet on August 4 at 6 p.m. at Winona Senior High School.