The four candidates running for the three open seats on the Ripon School Board all expressed appreciation for the Ripon Area School District’s ongoing improvement efforts.

     But only one among them — Dan Zimmerman — held a skeptical view of virtual learning. His raised eyebrow, he explained, was  based on first-hand experience.

     “Having completed significant online schooling and run undergraduate degree programs with online components,” Zimmerman  said, “I’m comfortable saying that online schooling is not good for most people, especially kids.”

     That observation was a refreshing departure from other candidates’ fatalistic observations that virtual learning is an economic inevitability as it will help Ripon capture more students — and per-pupil aid — that right now is flowing to other districts via open enrollment.

      What about academic viability?

      It remains to be seen whether cyber schooling is a feasible pathway to learning or a feeble outlet for students already too wedded to their screens.
The truth likely is somewhere in the middle ...

     The real danger inherent in the district’s embrace of virtual schooling, however, is for the Ripon Area School Board to check the box — “Now we’ve gotten that accomplished, thanks to our $900,000, five-year planning grant” — and move on to the next innovation with nary a glance in the rear-view mirror.

     Innovation demands oversight, follow-up and evidence-based assessment. ...

     School Board members voted unanimously last week  ... to make up the 258-minute shortfall from its Feb. 25 snow day by asking teachers in grades 7 to 12 to make online assignments rather than extend the classroom day or academic year. ...

     The district legally is fulfilling its DPI requirement but at the cost of compromising a school year that it has predetermined works best when student and teacher are in the same room in the same building for which the public four years ago invested $31 million.

     Again, the same School Board members who approved of this unconventional deviation owe it to the public to follow-up with administrators this summer ...

      When the new School Board will take office May 6, we trust it will treat the public with deference, frequently asking, “How did that work?” and occasionally casting votes whose mixed results reflect robust discussion with challenging questions presented by independent, critical thinkers.            

— Tim Lyke

     To read the entire editorial, see the April 12, 2019 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.