Pittsburgh Public Schools board approves new vendor for online academy

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The Pittsburgh Public Schools board voted tonight to change vendors for its Pittsburgh Online Academy from Waterfront Learning, operated through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, to VLN Partners, located on the South Side.

The district started the academy to attract students away from cyber charter schools. The state requires Pittsburgh to pay $12,871 for each non-special education resident who attends a charter school and $27,923 for a special education student.

The district hired Waterfront Learning, an arm of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, for $3,500 a year per student, including computers, curriculum and teachers. VLN charges $5,000 per student. The district has additional administrative costs.

In an email, Sarah McCluan, spokeswoman for the AIU, said Pittsburgh is the only client that has not renewed with Waterfront. She said Waterfront serves about 100 education entities across the state.

At a meeting last week, Jerri Lynn Lippert, chief academic officer for the district, said VLN is better suited to customize the program and can enable the district to offer synchronous classes -- in which the student and teacher are live online together -- rather than just asynchronous classes. The principal also will be able to have direct contact with VLN teachers.

The school served grades 6-12 in 2012-13. Grades 4 and 5 are to be added this fall.

April figures showed that the school had had 144 students, but only 47 were still enrolled, including 17 of the original 55.

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Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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