In the fall of 2001 several Board of Education members and district administrators were discussing what it would take to initiate a virtual high school locally. It was decided that if someone could be found locally to lead the project, grant money would be sought to move the project forward as quickly as possible. A new position of Program Leader for Online Learning was created and upon filling that position the research and planning was officially under way. A DPI Charter School Planning Grant was submitted in December of 2001. In January 2002, $10,000 in planning funds was awarded making it possible to move the project forward quickly.
In March of 2003, at the Wisconsin Charter School Conference in Appleton, Paula Crandall-Decker from the DPI offered a financial incentive of an additional $40,000 each to the Appleton and Kiel districts for staff development and training if the districts would explore means to collaborate since the districts were working on similar projects. After revising the Planning Grant budget to include $50,000 instead of the original $10,000, the full amount was awarded to both districts and collaboration, research, staff development and training helped to put the project on a fast track. A pilot project was begun during the spring 2002 semester involving about 12 students and planning moved forward in earnest.
On April 24, 2002 the Board of Education officially approved the Charter for Appleton eSchool as an instrumentality of the Appleton Area School District and plans moved forward to officially open for the Fall semester of 2002.
Projections for the 2002-2003 school year were to enroll 20-30 students in online courses. Appleton eSchool enrolled over 70 students during the first year with about 50 course completions expected by the end of the term.
During the spring of 2003, collaborative efforts extended beyond the Kiel eSchool. A TEACH grant awarded in January helped provide the infrastructure to form the Wisconsin Collaborative Online Network. This organization brought together representatives from the Department of Public Instruction, Administrator and School Board Associations, legislators, technical colleges, universities, Wisconsin Education Association Council and the online/virtual schools operating at the time. In the course of a year this group developed guidelines and standards for online learning.
The above chart provides data on the growth of the Appleton eSchool.