LAKE PLACID — The BOCES Regional Distance Learning Program covers 12 counties in northeastern New York State, involves more than 1,200 students, 66 instructors, 80 daily course sections and allows schools to share teachers through full-motion, interactive video broadcasts — students learn from teachers in classrooms elsewhere.
The Lake Placid school board listened to a presentation on the topic during Tuesday night’s board meeting and expressed mixed feelings about bringing the set-up to the district.
BOCES Superintendent Steve Shafer introduced Mike Sylofski, managing coordinator of the program, who outlined the benefits of distance learning. BOCES?representatives were invited to give the presentation as a result of the newly formed Shared Services Committee, led by board member Gerry Blair.
“This is real time learning,” Sylofski said. “The core use is for shared courses between schools to offer students more opportunities in a way that’s cost effective.”
The distance learning program, now in its 18th year, is geared toward giving districts the opportunity to maintain electives and Advanced Placement courses with low enrollment. The idea is that if students from a nearby district are interested in a course a teacher can simultaneously teach students in two locations.
After a tough budget season last year and public outcry over cutting electives, distance learning may be a good option for Lake Placid, but board members were skeptical.
“One of my concerns is how would kids catch up on school work if their teacher wasn’t around?” said board member Ujju Mahatme. “We have a lot of students in sports who often leave the country.”
Sylofski said teachers in the system often give out email addresses and phone numbers, and that lectures could be recorded to watch at a later date.
Board member Dan Nardiello said he was concerned about district teachers not being receptive to the idea.
“My concern is that there would be a push back from teachers,” he said, adding that teachers and union officials may see the program as a way for administrators to eliminate teaching jobs.
“The best advice we can offer is to make this an option for teachers,” Shafer said. “Make it voluntary so that teachers feel comfortable with it.”
The board was also concerned with the price. To set up a classroom for distance learning the initial cost would be $80,000, and annual maintenance costs would be $52,000. BOCES, however, offers reimbursement aid for both those costs, along with teacher salaries. If a teacher spends one-fifth of their time teaching a distance learning course, the district is reimbursed for that time. BOCES also offers reimbursements aid for start-up costs.
“If we were to go for this, we’d have to make sure we have enough students enrolled in the program,” Blair said. “Otherwise it’s going to be a few very expensive courses that we’d be offering.”