MEREDITH — In a sign many parents are concerned about returning children to classrooms, the state’s online charter school has seen a jump in demand and is telling superintendents not to depend on it as a sole source for remote education.
The Inter-Lakes School District was planning to use the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School in Exeter as the way for its students to receive remote education and will now have to rethink those plans, Superintendent Mary Moriarity said Friday.
The Gilford and Laconia districts have the charter school as an option.
“The year ahead is all about being nimble, and this is just one of many times we will be adapting,” Moriarity said.
If the district has to stand up its own remote instruction system, this would take teaching staff away from in-classroom instruction.
“I think we are going to have to shift resources and that will make us thin in other places,” she said. “The thinner we get, the more concerning it becomes relative to starting to see other issues.
“It could make it harder to do face-to-face instruction, particularly if there are staff absences. There are a lot of moving parts.”
Moriarity said the district is awaiting responses from parents to determine how many want their children to do remote instruction. The Laconia district is also waiting to hear back from parents.
A survey sent to Inter-Lakes School District families in early July had more than 800 responses and showed 13.4 percent wanted remote learning only, while 52.5 percent favored face-to-face instruction.
Steve Kossakoski, chief executive officer and co-founder of the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, said enrollment requests at his school have been building. Applications increased four-fold last week compared to the same time period last year.
He said that in mid-July, as back-to-school discussions were being held in districts across the state, enrollment activity at his academy increased greatly.
Parents who now go to the school’s website and try to enroll their children will see significant wait lists.
“As with any school, there are going to be limits,” Kossakoski said. “My communication to school districts has been, ‘Keep planning to build your own programs. We can't be a replacement.’”
His school has hired 60 new teachers since the start of July.
It is expanding its elementary school offerings. In the spring, it implemented instruction in grades 4 and 5. This fall, it is expanding to kindergarten through 3rd grade.
“We had to go out and hire certified elementary school teachers,” he said. “That’s also a reason for the wait list.
“We built an entire elementary school starting at the beginning of July. As you can guess when you have something as serious and scary as a pandemic, you will get a lot of interest.
“We are building a plane while flying it.”
He said some parents appear to be enrolling their children at the school as a backup plan.
“The majority of parents are not saying anything negative about local schools,” he said. “They are just afraid, not sure what's going to happen.
“Many say they have confidence, but if something should not work out, they want an alternative.
“Others say that no matter what, they are just not comfortable. Someone in the family is ill or has some reason for concern about the virus. Others say they don't want to expose their kids to the public. It’s just a very tough time.”