JACKSBORO—A plan to implement an Internet-based learning curriculum in Campbell County is offline — for now — after state education officials, apparently powered down the plan.
The fate of the district’s “Virtual Academy” remains unclear.
Campbell County Director of Schools Donnie Poston said Tuesday night that all the necessary paperwork has been submitted to the Tennessee Department of Education for approval.
“(Assistant Director of Schools) Larry (Nidiffer) and (Director of Special Programs) Eunice (Reynolds) worked all Saturday on preparing another round of answers [to the state’s questions]. We’ve done everything we’re supposed to do,” said Poston.
But the state put the brakes on Campbell County’s Virtual Academy late last week because of insufficient information on the original application.
Students hoping to utilize the on-line method were told to enroll in their regular schools until further notice.
Dr. Kathleen Airhart, deputy commissioner of education, sent Nidiffer a letter on July 30 stating, “We have received your application for approval of the K-12 Campbell County Virtual School. At this time, we are unable to approve your request due to an omission of responses to several items contained in the approval form as well as the need for additional information by the department.”
Dr. Airhart pointed to several specific items not addressed on the application.
• Number of teachers
• Length of teacher day
• Estimated student enrollment in district and out of district
• Length of student day
*If students are assigned on a permanent basis per school year
• What tests will be administered
• If students would receive official Tennessee high school diplomas/mastery certificates from the Virtual Academy
• Enrollment and attendance software package
Dr. Airhart also had questions about curriculum, instructional time requirements, monitoring and enforcing attendance, procedures for monitoring student participation and progress, guidelines for administering TCAP or successor tests, evaluation of the school by the district, special education requirements and policies and class size maximums.
Dr. Airhart closed by saying, “We appreciate your desire to provide additional educational opportunities to students; however, we remain concerned about your ability to successfully open and operate this school for the 2013-14 school year. Please note that until you have received approval, the proposed school is not eligible to receive public funds for enrolled students.”
Poston said his office has worked tirelessly the past few weeks to supply the state with requested information, which is something he said, quite frankly, that the company Campbell County contracted with to provide a virtual setting, should have been doing.
“We’re not getting paid (extra) for this. We’re doing their work for them,” said Poston.
Poston has also become a bit concerned about Union County’s low test scores the past two years after contracting with K12 to provide a Virtual Academy.
He said less than 50 of the nearly 4,000 students participating in Union County’s Virtual Academy are actually from that district. He said the majority is from West Tennessee, which is something he said would also hold true in Campbell County.
Scores from Union County’s Virtual Academy are lumped in with those from all the regular schools in the district, which leaves local teachers and administrators with virtually no control of the education and testing process.
In June, the Campbell County Board of Education passed a motion to enter into a one-year contract with K-12 Virtual Schools, LLC. Eugene Lawson, who had concerns about the quality of instruction in a virtual setting, was the only board member that voted against the proposal.
Board member Rector Miller’s motion to approve the contract with K-12 included the stipulation that any funds generated be used for the allocation of safety resources, specifically school resource officers, for Campbell County.
The virtual school, which will have an initial enrollment cap of 1,500 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade and 1,500 students in the high school grades, will be funded through state Better Education Program funds. Through the agreement, K-12 will receive 96 percent of the BEP money for students enrolled in the program, which Campbell County Finance Director Jeff Marlow estimated to be around $5,200 per student during the 2012-13 school year. Campbell County Public Schools will get the other four percent. The money K-12 receives from the state will be used to operate the school. Marlow estimated the virtual school could generate somewhere between $250,000 and $450,000 annually for the school system.
In order to pass the budget for the 2013-14 school year, Poston had proposed taking the money for the SROs from undesignated fund balance in anticipation of grant monies and/or revenue generated by the new Virtual Academy.
Miller said a timeframe for finding out about the grants has now been pushed back to September, and he isn’t very optimistic that the funding issue for the eight additional SROs can be resolved even then.