The Insight School of Washington isn’t just the biggest school in the Quillayute Valley School District, it’s the biggest high school in Clallam County.
That’s why the performance of the students in the online school, who live throughout the state, has a profound effect on the county’s overall numbers.
For example, the county’s 39 percent graduation rate. Remove the Insight School’s numbers and the county would rise to 75 percent or so, said Amanda Jovaag, a spokesman for the University of Wisconsin, which each year compiles educational data county by county throughout the U.S.
Quillayute Valley School District (QVSD) Superintendent Diana Reaume said the percentage of graduates is rising, and is important, but focusing solely on the numbers misses the point.
It’s more important to recognize that lacking an option like the Insight School, most of those students never would have earned a high school diploma.
She said each graduate is an individual success story.
QVSD partners with Insight School of Washington, a for-profit company, to operate the school.
Jeff Bush, executive director of Insight School, said it’s important for students to get a diploma rather than a GED.
“A GED isn’t necessarily recognized by secondary schools or for jobs,” he said.
QVSD staffers provide a number of services to the school, perhaps most importantly ensuring the school’s curriculum meets all state and federal guidelines. “We provide all of the oversight,” Reaume said.
She said she pitches in, and so do members of her staff. “Each one of us has a different portion of it.”
That includes reviewing the Individual Education Plans for the school’s special education students.
“It’s departmental,” Reaume said. “If we get an audit, we make sure we have all of our compliance pieces in place.”
She said that none of the district’s staff works exclusively for the Insight School.
“It’s a piece of their job and they do it very well.”
A little history
Reaume said in the mid-2000s the Washington Legislature passed a law that for the first time allowed for online learning.
Sometime after that Insight came calling.
They were looking for a school district they could partner with, Reaume said. Specifically, they were looking for a district that had “a history of belief in distance learning and also had a partnership with other entities.”
They needed a district that could create a business arrangement that would allow public funding to flow through to the Insight School.
Reaume said it was a good fit. The district already had teamed up with “Virtual High School,” a distance-learning program based in Massachusetts.
The district also had an established relationship with the Quileute Tribal School, which is run under the aegis of the Bureau of Indian Education. “They’re also a public school because of their relationship with our school district,” Reaume said. State money flows through the QVSD to the Quileute Tribal School.
When Insight contacted Frank Walter, Reaume’s predecessor, he agreed it might be a good partnership.
Soon the school board approved it and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Insight.
The first year, 2006-2007, “we had 43 kids and graduated seven seniors,” Reaume said.
In three years it had grown to “600-something with 25 graduates.”
And then it took off.
By the turn of the century, the Insight School had 2,400 students, with about 325 graduates.
The number of students has fluctuated little since then, Reaume said, but the number of graduates has grown to an average of 400 per year.
Bush said many of these students are taking advantage of their “last opportunity to get a diploma.”
A rough patch
Reaume admits there were some tough times — some “growing pains” — including an instability in school leadership. The company was sold three times.
But, “we had established our platform,” Reaume said. Company officials and district employees put into place the requisite software and curriculum. Insight hired and retained highly qualified teachers, as required by state law.
Reaume said perhaps the biggest challenge has been “getting the right kid in the school.” The Insight School provides a rigorous curriculum, she said, and it takes self-discipline to succeed. “If a student is going to survive in that world without a teacher looking over their shoulder, they have to be highly motivated and they have to have great reading skills,” she said.
“We’ve gotten better about getting the right kind of kids,” she said.
She also noted Insight students are mostly the ones who didn’t succeed in traditional “brick-and-mortar” schools.
She said some had been bullied, while others had been ill and couldn’t catch up. Some are teen mothers.
And some are just busy, including the gifted students who have skills that allow them to compete during the school year. “Professional skiers, professional rodeo competitors …. They can’t attend a public school, but they want to be a part of a public system.”
Reaume added, “We also have students who were behind and somewhere, somehow it clicks in that they want to do better for themselves, but they’re so far behind there’s no way to catch up.”
“That’s why our graduation rate lags.”
Face to face
Reaume said the school provides students with the opportunity to socialize. “We have face-to-face opportunities for the students. It’s always fun.”
That includes proms, bowling tournaments and a big graduation ceremony each year at Bellevue Community College.
Writing about her experience with Insight, one student who was formerly largely disabled by migraines said, “Since coming to ISWA, my migraine condition has literally disappeared. I’ve been able to pass classes with excellent grades, meet new friends … and interact with the most genuine teachers I have ever met.”
Reaume said the school has been criticized. “Some say it’s a money-making machine — a diploma-awarding machine.”
In fact, she said, the school provides “quality instruction, a quality opportunity.”
She said a handful of Quillayute District students enroll in the school each year. Reaume asked some of them why they do. “One young lady said there was too much drama, that kids gossiping distracted her ability to focus.”
But, Reaume said, the student was able to graduate from the Insight School, which resulted in a Quillayute Valley School District diploma. “All get the QVSD diploma.”