Oregon Connections Academy

FAQ: New District Sponsor—Santiam Canyon School District


Background:

Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) is one of Oregon’s first, virtual, public charter schools.  It broke new ground in public education and provided an innovative school of choice for students across Oregon.  Now in its tenth year of operation, ORCA serves more than 3,500 K-12 students and continues to receive high marks from families. In a 2014 survey of parents with students enrolled in ORCA, 91% of parents recommend ORCA to other families, 86% are more satisfied with ORCA than their previous school, and 92% say their children are making good progress.

As always, Oregon Connections Academy is committed to providing the best possible education to students. Therefore, when our current district partner, Scio, was unable to support ORCA’s plans to grow and further enhance the school program for our students, ORCA looked for a partner that could meet the school’s needs.

We are pleased to report that ORCA has signed a contract with the Santiam Canyon school district – a move that will benefit our students.

FAQ:

To learn more about the new Oregon Connections Academy district sponsor, click on one of the questions below.

How will this move impact students and families? Do they have to do anything differently in terms of enrollment? Will they see a difference?

Our plan is to work with the Oregon Department of Education to ensure a smooth transition. We expect the change to Santiam Canyon to be seamless to families.

Why did ORCA seek a new district partner?

ORCA’s number one priority is serving its students. The new relationship with Santiam Canyon will allow ORCA to provide students with more services and resources.

  • Scio and ORCA had a successful partnership for many years. We are pleased with the work we accomplished together. But over the past few years, the relationship with Scio had become strained. Numerous communications with Scio illustrate growing tension, challenges with the superintendent, and a breakdown in contract renewal negotiations. Ultimately, ORCA wants to grow and provide new and expanded services and resources to students. Scio is unable to meet our needs. Our new partner district, Santiam Canyon offered more for our students.
  • It should also be known that Scio gave $463,000 to ORCA in early 2014 to settle ORCA’s breach of contract claim because of the actions of Scio’s superintendent regarding Educational Service District (ESD) funding and resources meant for ORCA students. Ultimately, it became clear from Scio's actions that ORCA should conduct due diligence to see if other options for sponsorship may be available to benefit ORCA students.

What did ORCA look for in a district partner?

In reviewing possible partners we looked at many factors including: the partner’s rationale for wanting to sponsor ORCA, contract term, funding, facilities, special education oversight, among others. It should be noted that Scio was invited to submit a new proposal.

Was it legal for ORCA to seek a new partner?

Yes. On December 11, 2014, a judge ruled that ORCA was able to seek a new partnership. In fact, Scio’s own board resolution language (contract renewal is contingent “upon successful negotiation”) was cited by the Judge as a basis for ruling that ORCA is not prohibited by law from seeking a new district partner. We did not continue to negotiate, nor did anyone from ORCA commit to continuing the relationship. According to the judge in her ruling, “Negotiations did fail. There was never a meeting of the minds between these parties, despite protracted negotiation efforts.” “Successful negotiation” did not happen.

In seeking a new partner, why did you limit your search to a 25 mile radius?

In order to retain educators and administrators, many of whom are local residents, a decision to limit the search to a 25 mile radius was made.

What was the main reason you selected Santiam-Canyon?

The decision was really based on a number of factors – Santiam Canyon's commitment to quality education, innovation and serving students in Oregon aligns to our mission. Santiam Canyon's ability to offer ORCA more control over student services and provide more funding for students were also important. Individual Board members used a rubric to score each district on a variety of factors. This process ensured an objective review.

When does your new partnership with Santiam-Canyon begin?

ORCA (with Santiam Canyon) will begin serving students in the 2015-2016 school year.

The superintendent of the new partner district is ORCA's former principal. Does this have anything to do with why you chose that district? Does he stand to gain anything?

It isn't a secret that Todd Miller is ORCA's former principal. This puts him in a unique position to understand the nuances of ORCA and online learning. He also understands that quality school programs require quality funding. His district offered the best proposal. Regarding Todd's feelings about the new partnership, I can't speak for Todd or his district, but we are pleased with this new arrangement and look forward to working with Santiam Canyon.

How many years does the anticipated contract with Santiam Canyon cover?

Five.

Is it true that ORCA sued the Scio School District in order to seek a new partner?

In an effort to halt ORCA’s steps to secure a new district partner, it was Scio’s School Board that voted to sue ORCA first at its May 21, 2014, board meeting. In an effort to seek prompt resolution to move forward for our students, ORCA decided to ask a judge to resolve the issue, which ORCA did on May 23. The judge ruled in ORCA’s favor.

Why is ORCA asking Scio to pay legal fees tied to this matter?

ORCA originally didn’t ask for its legal fees to be paid by Scio. Rather, Scio requested that ORCA pay its legal fees when it responded to ORCA’s claims. For Scio to want ORCA to pay its legal fees if it won, but to now say ORCA isn’t entitled to the same is hypocritical.

  • Scio’s and ORCA’s combined legal fees and costs are estimated to be over $200,000 – money better spent in classrooms.

How is moving from Scio to Santiam Canyon in the best interest of students and families? Will it mean more funding at the classroom level to serve students?

The new arrangement with Santiam Canyon allows for the ability to direct more resources to students. The ORCA Board and Administration are examining options such as providing additional course offerings such as dual credit, AP, credit recovery, and college/career readiness courses and providing additional support and resources for students.

What about students with special needs?

The new arrangement with Santiam Canyon also provides the ability to improve the delivery of services to ORCA students with special needs. This will result in meeting student learning needs at a more integrated and thorough level.

How many special education students does ORCA serve?

As of June 2014, 12% (433) of the student body had IEPS; 5% (176) were 504 students (with disabilities); 7% (227) were Gifted.

In a recent op-ed, the Scio School Board Chairman suggested that ORCA is run by a for-profit east coast company. Is this true?

ORCA is a non-profit, public school. ORCA contracts with the Baltimore-based Connections Education for online learning services and more -- just as traditional schools contract with for-profit companies for bus and lunch services, curriculum and more.

Does your decision to change district partners have anything to do with your provider, Connections Education?

No, this decision comes from the ORCA Board.

Will Connections Education, the provider, make more money as a result of the new deal?

Connections Education is the online learning provider for ORCA, if we increase our educational offerings, we plan to contract for those additional services (though we are not obligated to) through Connections.

What is the future for ORCA and Santiam Canyon?

The future looks bright! We are partnering with a district that is committed to quality education and innovation. We expect great things for ORCA’s current and future students.

Additional Resources

ORCA 2014 Parent Satisfaction Survey Results (Select Stats):

Satisfaction with Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA):

  • 87% of parents gave the overall ORCA online school program an “A” or “B” grade
    • According to the 46th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, ORCA’s scores stand well above public school ratings, in which 67% of public school parents gave the school their oldest child attends an “A” or “B” grade
  • 91% of parents would recommend ORCA to parents whose children are not enrolled in the program
  • 83% of parents are more satisfied with the ORCA program than their child’s/children’s previous school
  • 94% of parents say their child/children are satisfied with ORCA’s program
  • 90% of parents agree that their child/children are making good progress at ORCA

Satisfaction with ORCA teachers:

  • 95% of parents are satisfied with the helpfulness of their ORCA teachers
  • 89% of parents agree that the teachers improve the learning experience
  • 90% of parents rate the response time of ORCA teachers as excellent or good

Satisfaction with ORCA curriculum:

  • 92% of parents agree that the program is flexible
  • 94% of parents agree that the curriculum is high quality
  • 92% of parents agree that the use of technology is improving the learning experience

Oregon Connections Academy in the News
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