It’s the beginning of a new school year and a new way of doing things at eAchieve Academy, Waukesha’s virtual school for students in sixth through 12th grade.
Since its opening in 2004, the school partnered with a company to provide curriculum, marketing and logistics for the online school. However, increasing problems with the vendor caused officials to and develop a plan to run the school on its own starting this year.
Early indications are that taking on the additional challenge will pay off, according to school officials.
This year, the school is off to a strong start, with enrollment estimated to be around 890 full-time students, an “amazing turnaround” over recent years, according to eAchieve Principal Rick Nettesheim. Last year, the school had 770 students enrolled full time.
“This year has exceeded expectations," Nettesheim said. "It’s not been without a few hiccups but that’s to be expected when you’re starting something new.”
The school is operating under the same charter and the same staff, adding responsibility for the logistics of the program previously handled by the partner company.
“Instead of using curriculum from the logistics provider, we now had the ability to find the best online resources for our classes,” Nettesheim said.
The changes have garnered positive feedback from students, particularly those who were in the school last year. They report that the resources are much better, in both depth and breadth, according to Nettesheim. And teachers are reporting a high level of engagement from students.
Also new for this year was a to send laptops to more than 850 students. That deployment went off without a hitch, Nettesheim said. Previous years’ laptop programs, handled by the other company, haven’t been as smooth.
In addition to positive feedback from students, another plus is that the school is bringing money into the district and even the local economy by keeping services such as marketing local, according to Nettesheim.
The school had determined that a financial break-even point would be if enrollment were in the low 500s. The school is financially beneficial to the district with the additional enrollments and the corresponding money.
Two weeks into the school year, the school still has new enrollments coming in. They are fielding calls from parents and, just yesterday, a call from the New Berlin School District about some of their students taking classes on a part-time basis through the online school. Nettesheim said that enrollments are outpacing the usual attrition seen at the beginning of the school year.
He attributes the increase in enrollment in part to parents doing their homework when selecting their children’s schools.
“People take their children’s education seriously," he said. "We’ve got the results. We’re the highest achieving virtual school in the state.”
The school has the highest ACT scores of Wisconsin virtual schools and, just recently, was notified that one of their students was a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, he said.
In addition to parent approval with the program, a contributing factor for the increase in enrollment is an acceptance of virtual education by the general public.
“More people are aware that it’s a viable option to consider,” Nettesheim said.
Part-time enrollments are driven by students who enjoy the face-to-face experiences of high school but who are also looking for flexibility in scheduling a higher level class or elective class, according to Nettesheim.
Another factor of the school’s success is its teachers, Nettesheim said. The teachers are all Waukesha teachers, about half of whom work split their time working in one of the area schools and with eAchieve Academy as opposed to working full-time in a classroom and doing the virtual work on a part-time basis.
The teachers worked hard over the summer preparing for the changes, according to the principal.
“I attribute a lot of our success to our teachers," Nettesheim said. "They do a phenomenal job, caring for students and making sure to reach all students, going above and beyond."