Virtual program

Bulloch Schools will continue virtual program for ’22-’23, with new rules

For the 2022-2023 school year, Bulloch County Schools staff still plans to offer a virtual home learning option for approximately 500 students, but with specific limits on the number of “seats” available at each. school level and, for the first time, the conditions of eligibility.

Interested families may need to apply as early as the proposed application period of March 7 to March 25, but that timeline awaits a final decision and announcement.

Overall, the plan that Assistant Superintendent for School Improvement Teresa Phillips outlined to the school board will provide virtual schooling for up to 494 regular-education K-12 students, plus an undetermined number. of special education students.

“We looked at our maximum number, like the number of students we had when we peaked this year, and then we thought that was how we could cap it for next year,” Phillips explained. after Thursday’s BOE meeting.

For elementary grades, virtual enrollment will be limited to 24 kindergarten students, 24 first graders, 24 second graders, 24 third graders, 24 fourth graders, and 24 fifth graders. Two virtual program teachers will be assigned to each of the six elementary years. This will be a reduction of three teachers in total, as this year Kindergarten, Grades 1 and 2 have each been assigned three teachers from the regular virtual program.

Enrollment in the virtual college program will be limited to 30 sixth-graders, 30 seventh-graders and 30 eighth-graders. Together, these three levels currently have six full-time and one part-time regular virtual program teachers and are expected to maintain the same number.

Additionally, a Spanish teacher is assigned to the virtual program for elementary grades and another to middle grades as “optional” teachers.

Secondary classes, from grades 9 to 12, are allocated the most places in the programme, accommodating up to 260 mainstream education students. The current assignment of 13 regular secondary school teachers to the virtual program would be the same number needed to serve next year’s maximum enrollment.

Thus, the total would be 34 (or technically 33.5) regular teaching teachers of the virtual program, three less than this year.

Currently, four special education teachers are also assigned to the virtual program in high school classrooms. The number required for next year will not be known until applications for the program are received, Phillips said.

Eligibility criteria

In order to develop the plan for the next school year, staff members at the district office reviewed the current curriculum and the results of a January survey of its parents and teachers.

The biggest innovation is the set of eligibility requirements.

“For next year, we thought we’re going to build on what we did this year, so it’s going to be very similar, so if this year’s virtual program didn’t work for you, then the next year probably won’t work for you either, so we’re trying to make sure we’re preparing students for success,” Phillips said.

The rules will prohibit students from participating who were released from face-to-face teaching in the 2021-2022 school year due to the terms of their academic contracts. Participation in all state and district required assessments is required for eligibility.

This year’s kindergarten students, to participate in the virtual program in first grade, must have been recommended for promotion to first grade by their kindergarten teachers. Students in Years 1-5 must have passed both English Language Arts and Mathematics for the year to participate.

To be eligible, students in grades six to eight must have passed at least three of the four core content areas – English, math, science and social studies – for the year. Students in grades 9-12 must not have failed more than one virtual program synchronous learning course in any of the four content areas or in a world language (Spanish I or II).

History of the virtual

The virtual curriculum for the current school year was already significantly reduced from the 2020-2021 school year, when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the creation of a virtual option which enrolled 4,677 students, or 43% of Bulloch County’s total school enrollment per hour, as of September 1, 2020.

That fall, many students fell behind or never fully participated in this hastily planned first virtual option, which relied on Edgenuity’s online interactive courseware for middle and high school classes. and SchoolsPLP for elementary grades. So, for the second semester of this school year, the school district required many students to return to face-to-face instruction, after which 2,182 students remained in the virtual program as of January 6, 2021.

A virtual planning committee then designed a new program for the current school year. The committee has developed a handbook for parents and students; establish requirements for attendance and synchronous or real-time learning sessions; and introduces academic contracts that may result in probationary status or a mandatory return to face-to-face teaching.

Otherwise, the virtual program now requires a commitment over the entire year, as will still be the case at the start of the next school year.

Also during the current year, the school district eliminated use of SchoolsPLP, reduced use of Edgenuity, and purchased Brightspace, the online learning platform also used by Georgia Southern University.

Whether the program will continue to use Brightspace remains to be seen, Phillips said. In the January survey, 58% of teachers in the program disagreed with statements that the platform is easy for teachers or students to use.

But 93% of virtual program parents surveyed agreed that the current virtual program, overall, is a good option for their children, compared to just 50% who said they were satisfied with the original program in fall 2020.

As of Jan. 5, 2022, the program served 387 students, or just 3.5 percent of the total Bulloch County school enrollment of approximately 11,000. Those 387 at-home learners included 112 elementary students, 81 secondary and 194 secondary.

Enrollment in the program has fallen less than 7% since Sept. 1, when 415 students attended from home, according to Phillips’ report. But there had been 449 students enrolled and 45 teachers initially assigned before the start of the school year last August.

So why continue?

“For some of our high school kids, it’s a really great option that has nothing to do with COVID,” Phillips said. They just have unique situations, and that’s how they manage to get their credits so they can graduate from high school.

Some middle school students are also thriving with the virtual program, she said.

“And I fully intended to do away with elementary completely, because I felt they needed to be face-to-face, but we’re seeing success here, so it’s hard to deny that, and there’s still uncertainty about what might happen next year,” Phillips said. “There might be another variant, you just don’t know.”

So school system staff prefer to continue the program for another year and monitor the data to decide in the future whether to keep it for all grades or phase out portions, she said.

The two experienced principals named as virtual program administrators last summer — Pam Goodman for elementary grades and hardship applications and Katie Johnson for middle and high school — are expected to continue in those roles. Goodman said she heard continued interest from parents in the program at all levels and received calls from others asking if the program would still be available.

If the number of applications exceeds the spaces allocated to each grade level, random draws will be organized to decide which students will participate.

No school board action is required for the plan to move forward, but Phillips has asked for feedback from board members and some have expressed support for the program continuing.