Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

A Look Into Charter & Online Schooling
Fighting the rumors and defending the benefits

by Andi Wilson

March 01, 2012

Parents (and students) are often unaware of the alternative schooling benefits. Due to their sometimes-negative rumored reputation, families shy away from what that state considers a public school. Alternative schools operate independently of the district as educators, community leaders and parents come together to write charter school plans, which include guidelines, structure and measures of accountability. Yet, they continue to grow due to the need for a child-centered education even as questions arise as to whether their guidelines hold up to the public’s standards.

Debi Morris, social worker, and Shannon Franklin, receptionist and registrar, at Options Charter School (OCS) in Carmel wish to direct parents to their Web site to register children and go on a waiting list. When a spot opens, OCS contacts the parents to let them know a space is available. Franklin said, “We hold a lottery in April/May to determine the seats for the next school year.”

Indiana Connections Academy (INCA) is an accredited, tuition-free online public school for grades K-12 and authorized by Ball State University. Sandy Burke, representative for Athena Public Relations, stated there is no waiting list for students who meet the basic eligibility requirements, set by the Indiana Department of Education.

Burke added, “Parents can learn more about INCA, our educational program and enrollment process online at or by calling our enrollment team at 800-382-6010.”

Morris with OCS, explained that because of the size, enrichment courses at OCS are limited, “We do have a Special Education teacher on staff to work with both the students and staff, addressing learning and or behavioral issues.”

When it comes to INCA, Burke said its students participate in the nationally accredited Connections Academy program that combines high quality resources from leading publishers with cutting-edge, yet easy-to-use, technology and hands-on materials. This gives the students the opportunity to learn from home using personalized daily lesson plans. In addition to the core subjects INCA offers, they provide various electives such as art and foreign language courses, as well as honors, Advanced Placement (AP), ACT test prep and college-credit courses.

Are alternative schools for troubled youth?

Squelching this rumor, Morris said, “Students are not ‘sent’ to Options by other school systems, nor are they required to come [to Options] by order of the court.” Franklin added, “We are a school for children that are not succeeding at their previous school for whatever reason.” Franklin said the reason students often seek alternative schooling is due to feeling overwhelmed by the sizes of their current classrooms.

INCA accepts a wide range of students, including students requiring a more flexible schedule, a different type of learning pace, more individualized attention, live in isolated rural settings or those who are either “significantly ahead or behind in the classroom.”

OCS is conveniently located in both Noblesville and Carmel. Still, because of its size, student population and funding, extracurricular opportunities are limited. Morris explained how the school encourages their students to join services, such as student government, art club and fishing club. Franklin pointed out that these clubs change depending on participation and student requests.

Burke said, “[INCA] does understand that connecting with other students is one of the most important parts of a great school experience.” They offer over 20 clubs and activities, such as chess, robotics, art, poetry and environment, which is more than any other online school.

Graduation rates are not a concern. Burke affirmed, “Nationwide, across the national Connections Academy network of schools, our graduates have been accepted for admission from the nation’s top colleges and universities, including: Harvard, Cornell, Amherst College, Williams College and many more.” In 2011, INCA received more than a 95 percent rating on an annual Parent Satisfaction Survey.

Morris stated how one school would not meet every student’s needs since other factors come into play, such as location, size and cost. She continued, adding the importance of spending time at the school, taking tours and meeting with current students. Franklin suggested parents send their child to attend a charter school if they are struggling with their academics as the smaller class sizes help children focus and retain materials. “Because of our size, we also get to know the students better and what exactly their needs are,” Franklin said.

Burke stressed the ‘one size fits all’ theory as public classroom environments are not always good, stating a more personalized educational experience for children not thriving within the traditional public school environment may be necessary. Burke said, “We do encourage parents considering enrolling their child in a virtual charter school like INCA to do their own ‘homework,’ since full-time virtual school is not the right choice for every child or family.”

Morris asked parents to be involved, regardless of where their child attends school, which also meant knowing the staff, attending meetings and simply, being a visible and present parent.