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Virtual academy enrollment down

n Enrollment numbers are still much higher than originally projected. by Janelle Jessen | November 18, 2020 at 5:28 a.m.

Enrollment in Siloam Springs School District's new virtual academy is down by about a third since the new 100 percent online school launched in August.

Assistant Superintendent Amy Carter presented a report about the virtual academy to school board members on Thursday. The academy was originally projected to have around 150 students in grades kindergarten through 12, but more than 600 signed up to participate before school began in August.

Enrollment was down to around 415 students on Thursday, Carter said. About 18 kindergarten students are enrolled in the virtual academy and all of the other school buildings in the district have between 60 to 70 online students, except for the high school, which has around 122 students, she said.

"Every single day our numbers change, somebody decides to come back or something like that across the buildings so it is very fluid but we are holding steady," she said.

The online school uses curriculum from private companies taught by local teachers. The virtual academy has been in the works for some time as an additional way to serve students but preparations sped up when the coronavirus hit and school closed for in-person instruction in March, Carter said in August. The program is designed to be sustained for multiple years, she said.

The academy has faced a few hiccups and challenges in the first semester, Carter said. For the past week and a half administrators have been meeting with teachers and staff to find out which areas the virtual academy is doing well and which areas need some work, she said.

From the anecdotal information gathered from teachers, administrators heard there has been more parent communication than ever before, Carter said. However, there has also been a few hiccups with the software platforms the school uses, although those have calmed down as people have learned to work around issues, she said. Teachers suggested the school use its own curriculum through the virtual academy and that students and parents have more accountability, she said.

Adrienne Schlake, virtual academy director, and Valerie King, director of academic support, have put together a survey for virtual academy parents and students to be pushed out in the next several weeks to gather feedback from their perspectives, Carter said.

In addition to the virtual academy, many traditional students are pivoting to remote instruction with Northside Elementary and the intermediate school closed for in-person instruction and other students out on quarantine, Carter said. Wiggins invited a group of 30 teachers from all grade levels to provide feedback on what the district is doing well and what areas need improvement, she said.

Teachers reported being apprehensive about many of the new education technology tools at first but now say they love the tools and could not do remote learning without them, Carter said.

However, they said there have been some challenges transitioning the approximately 200 virtual academy students back to traditional school, she said. Teachers would like to know ahead of time what standards the new students have been taught before they come back to the classroom, she said.

Teaching remote learners who are in quarantine has also created some hiccups, Carter said. Some students are doing great, signing in and jumping right into lessons, while others don't have parent support or struggle with internet connection, she said. It's especially common for students to only have parent support in the evenings after work, she said.

Carter said she has been on regional and state Zoom meetings to discuss the problem of engaging remote learners.

"It's everywhere, so it helps me to know it's not just us, but nobody really has the fix for how to engage those remote learners," she said. "That is something that has been a struggle and we are continuously working on pulling those kids in and engaging them."

In other business, the school board took the following actions:

• Approved a resolution to do business with C Three Advisers. School board approval was required by state law because the company is owned by Chuck Hyde, husband of school employee Brian Hyde.

• Approved the resignation of Lori Brewer, speech language pathologist.

• Approved the transfer of six students into the the Siloam Springs School District.

• Approved the transfer of six students out of the Siloam Springs School District to the Gentry School District.


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