Kirksville schools are considering a new focus on technology with a “virtual school” program that may offer students a chance to get their diplomas online.

The proposal was outlined by Kirksville High School Assistant Principal Jesse Wolf at the Kirksville R-III Board of Education meeting Wednesday. Wolf has been communicating with Fuel Education (FuelEd), a company that runs online classes in several states, about the possibility of using their “Peak” virtual education classes in the district.

FuelEd offers online classes from kindergarten through high school, partnering with brick-and-mortar schools to enroll students and meet the educational standards of individual states. Students would take classes from home and work with Missouri-certified teachers not employed by the district, but would ultimately earn a KHS degree.

Wolf said the initial market for the program would be students who are currently homeschooled. Instead of paying for their children’s educational materials, parents could access FuelEd classes for free through the district. The program would also give them the ability to contact certified teachers. Wolf said the program could also work for current KHS students who have difficulty attending classes for any reason.

The proposal is, in part, a response to new Missouri legislation which requires all public schools to either offer an online version of all classes or pay for students to access online education elsewhere. Wolf said if Kirksville is able to become one of the first districts in Missouri to offer comprehensive online education, they could attract students from around the state.

While the legislation technically goes into effect Aug. 28, the Legislature is still ironing out details such as how online-only students would be counted in a school’s enrollment numbers. Wolf said the FuelEd program could be ready to roll out in the district by October.

Wolf said partnering with FuelEd would involve little cost and no additional teaching duties for the district.

“We’re just a name, we’re the title, we’re able to provide that diploma when it’s done,” Wolf said.

Kirksville R-III schools would need to have three district employees who could administer the program on the district’s end. Wolf said that in the beginning stages, those duties could be performed by current employees.

The program would also be a chance for the district to secure additional funding through boosting its average daily attendance (ADA), the metric by which Missouri provides funding to schools. FuelEd would receive a percentage of ADA costs for students enrolled online, and the district would keep the rest. Because of this model, the district would not need to pay FuelEd anything up front to begin offering the program.

“I’m always worried about spending money; this could be an opportunity for us to potentially make some money so that we can continue funding some of the lower-number courses that we have,” Superintendent Damon Kizzire said.

“Our job is not to make money, it’s to create opportunity for kids,” Wolf said. “But this could do both.”

While the board did not vote to approve the program, as a contract with FuelEd is still being negotiated, members expressed support for the idea.

“I think it’s exciting, and I love to see that we’re trying something and being on the edge,” board member Gayla McHenry said.

Currently, the district is already using online education programs through KHS’ new Learning Center, which caters to high school students with behavioral problems or other difficulties in a traditional classroom. Students in the Learning Center access online classes in a newly constructed space at the high school while under the supervision of teachers.

Wolf said 13 students are already enrolled in the program and he has received positive feedback on the Learning Center’s environment. He said the Learning Center has already provided a new chance for some students he was not expecting to graduate.

Athletics Director Sara Williams also gave a report on activities participation, which has remained level with the last two years.

Board members agreed to wait until their next meeting to discuss proposals for a school-based health center and to possibly take possession of Kirksville’s armory, which is currently used as a National Guard recruiting station. Kizzire said those items will have more precise cost estimates at that time.