Port High to offer first online program of its kind to teens throughout state
Years after many schools stopped teaching teenagers how to drive, Port Washington High School will once again offer the classroom component of driver’s education — only without the classroom.
The Port Washington-Saukville School Board on Monday approved what will likely be the first online high school driver’s education course in Wisconsin, not just for Port High students but for teenagers throughout the state.
The course will replace the portion of driver’s education traditionally taught by an instructor in a classroom, but not behind-the-wheel instruction, which will continue to be available through private companies.
The program is expected to begin with the start of classes in September.
Driver’s education had been part of the school curriculum until nearly 10 years ago, when the Department of Public Instruction stopped reimbursing districts for the cost of the program. That prompted many school systems, including the Port-Saukville District, which was faced with a $700,000 deficit at the time, to drop the program.
“Now it’s coming back in a form that is far more convenient for students and parents and that will probably generate revenue for the district,” Supt. Michael Weber said. “And what I really appreciate about the program is its rigor.
“I think it’s an absolutely fantastic program.”
The fee that the high school will charge for the course has not been set, but Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said it will be about $130. With relatively low overhead costs and access to teenagers across the state, administrators believe the program will make money unlike its predecessor.
“This is pretty exciting because it will afford us the opportunity to provide online education throughout the State of Wisconsin,” Froemming said. “That has the potential to produce revenue for us.”
The online course was proposed by Scott Bretl, owner of the Port Washington-based driver’s education franchise Just Drive. The company will not be involved in the online program. Instead, Bretl, who is developing the online program, will be employed by the district to monitor classes and serve as the program’s certified instructor. His pay will be based on the number of students enrolled, Froemming said.
What seems like a curious business decision for Bretl is explained by state regulations. While the Department of Transportation does not allow online driver’s education for teenage students, the Department of Public Instruction does, which means online courses in Wisconsin have to be offered by schools, Bretl said.
Currently, only a technical college in southwest Wisconsin and a Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) offer online classes, Bretl said.
The online course is being billed as a far more convenient alternative to the classroom version. Currently, students have to fit 30 hours of classroom instruction after school or during the summer into their schedules. They will be able to take the online classes at any time and anywhere they have access to a computer and the Internet.
“Now that all high school students have Chromebooks, they can take driver’s ed during their study halls,” Bretl said.
But that’s not to say the online course will be easier than the classroom alternative or that students will be able to whip through the 30-hour program in a day or two.
The course will consist of 40 sessions that are at least 45 minutes long. Students can spend more than 45 minutes on each session — an advantage, administrator say, over the classroom alternative — but not less time.
Students can take only one course a day during the school year and two during the summer. That means that the course will run a minimum of six weeks during the school year and three weeks during the summer.
Each course will consist of an overview presented in video form by an instructor, a public service announcement, reading assignment from the Wisconsin Motorist Handbook and video with material that will be on a session quiz.
Each quiz, which students must pass in order to move to the next session, will consist of 15 multiple choice questions. If students fail the quiz, they will be allowed to retake it once before they are locked out of the program. Before they are allowed to continue, the instructor must speak with their parents.
“Everyone can be rest assured that students who successfully complete the programs will have gone through as much rigor, possibly more, than in the traditional classes,” Weber said.