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Ripon Unified gives virtual school big boost
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RIPON – The California Connections Academy @ Ripon cleared a major hurdle.

Trustees of the Ripon Unified School District recently approved the tuition-free virtual charter school as an education option for kindergarten through 12th grade students in eight counties, including San Joaquin, Sacramento and Alameda.

The proposal has since been forwarded to the state Department of Education in Sacramento prior to last Friday’s deadline in time for the March meeting. The program is expected to be off and running in time for the 2012-13 school year.

The board voted 3-1 (Donna Parks, who had apprehension on the charter’s five-year commitment, voted no while Jack DeLiddo was absent at the Jan. 9 session) in favor of the plan.

Trustee Ernie Tyhurst had a chance to visit one of the Internet-based charter school sites about three months ago.

“My visit (to the campus) was eye-opening,” he said.

Tyhurst was wowed by the technology and the professionalism of the staff.

The virtual school consists of certified instructors working online via webcam with students.

The program is nationally accredited using cutting-edge technology, easy-to-use technology and hands-on material. Students and teachers use headsets for face-to-face instructions.

California Connections reportedly received more than 4,000 requests from parents from those eight counties.

The proposed virtual academy could open with 200 students in that first year and eventually grow to more than 800, with RUSD leasing out a classroom to serve as the eight-county educational hub.

Connections Academy is funded via ADA, with one percent of those state funds earmarked for Ripon Unified.

The idea first came before the board last November. Officials from Connections Academy proposed the partnership that would meet the needs of students online who might otherwise opt to drop out of the traditional educational system.

The virtual charter school would be independent of RUSD, operating with its own board and teaching staff.