BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ A shift to online education has restored Southern University Lab School’s financial health and prospects, perhaps even helping attract local students to the physical campus next to the historically black university in Baton Rouge.

The Advocate reports (Southern Lab rebounds) Southern Lab’s Virtual School, barely a year old, teaches more than 600 students around the state ¡_ three times its initial enrollment target. Almost 400 more students are on a waiting list.

Enrollment at its traditional school, founded in 1922, has grown as well. At its nadir in fall 2010, 266 students enrolled in grades kindergarten to 12. Now, it has almost 500 students.

School director Ronnie Harrison said the “sky is the limit” on how big the online school could grow, provided he has sufficient staff. He plans to hire a program director to handle the growth. K12 Inc., the for-profit online giant managing the new virtual school, also is adding a new staff member to help Harrison oversee school operations.

This school year is expected to see a surplus of between $500,000 to $1 million, some of which Harrison plans to use to improve the old Southern Lab facilities.

“We have a school that is still in dire need of repairs,” he said.

Teachers, too, will get pay raises for the first time since 2006.

The virtual school is drawing students from 155 cities and towns across Louisiana.

While Harrison was initially attracted to the idea of the virtual school as a way to shore up his traditional school’s finances, Harrison ended up a convert to the concept of online education. “There are so many kids being bullied and the school systems are not doing enough about it,” Harrison said.

University lab schools were formed to give colleges of education a place to train student teachers and experiment with different instructional techniques.

The lab school and the university are also connected via a dual-enrollment program; it allows lab students to earn college credits starting as early as 10th grade. Students in the online school also can dually enroll, but they need to live in the metro area to attend Southern in person. Eighty of the 610 current students in the virtual school are from Baton Rouge and more live in the metro area.

In addition, seniors in the virtual school can walk at graduation ceremonies with students from the traditional school.


Information from: The Advocate,