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The Bozeman Online Charter School will be the first public stand-alone charter school in Montana after it received state approval earlier this month.

The Montana Board of Public Education approved the Bozeman School District’s charter school application on May 14, with the board members expressing excitement to see how the school grows.

The online charter school grew out of the success and interest in the district’s online-only K-8 option, which it launched at the start of the school year to accommodate families with COVID-19 concerns.

District administrators have said they see the online charter school as a flexible, long-term solution to meet the needs of current and future students. The school board voted to move forward with the process of getting state approval in February.

While charter programs like the Bridger Charter Academy are connected to a more traditional public school, the Bozeman Online Charter School will be a stand-alone entity, said Cale VanVelkinburgh, principal of the BOCS.

The charter school is set up to be a combination of remote learning and in-person support. Students will have flexible scheduling, with outdoor and community-based learning opportunities.

“That remote piece can help with some students,” VanVelkinburgh said. “If that classroom environment can be distracting or create extra anxiety, then some kids thrive when that learning is online.”

It also gives other students the flexibility to pursue goals and interests outside of school.

There are just under 100 students registered for the first year of BOCS, and VanVelkinburgh said he anticipates that number will grow as fall gets closer.

With the current Bozeman Online School, VanVelkinburgh said the district learned how important having an in-person component can be to meeting students’ social and emotional needs. To support those needs, there will be opportunities for students to meet teachers and fellow students in person for projects, additional support and some classes like music and gym.

The school will have a physical location but the district is still looking at enrollment numbers to determine the best space for it, VanVelkinburgh said.

To take advantage of the online school’s flexibility, there will also be opportunities for place-based learning. School administrators are imagining those as more than just trips to the outdoors but also taking classes into Bozeman organizations to see how subjects like reading, writing or math are used in settings outside of school.

Hiring for the BOCS was opened up to all teachers in the district, with interested candidates asked to submit a 10-minute video presentation of how they would meet the needs of all students in their class.

The charter school is planned to have three elementary school teachers, two middle school teachers, a K-8 health enhancement teacher, a K-8 music teacher, a special education teacher, a part-time counselor and a part-time library media specialist.

With an emphasis on meeting students where they are, the school will “kind of move away from the first, second, third grade model,” VanVelkinburgh said. Students will still be asked to meet learning objectives, he said, but with less focus on what grade they’re in.

Feedback from families has been positive, with many saying they’re excited to see the school break the mold, VanVelkinburgh said.

“That’s how cool things like this take place, by committing to what’s possible out there and then seeing how it could turn into reality,” he said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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