8/17/15 Virtual Academy looks to expand

Alamance-Burlington School System’s Virtual Academy lead Frances Wilson, is seen Thursday inside a Virtual Academy classroom at the Career and Technical Education Center. CTEC is looking to expand from last year’s enrollment of 34 students, some of whom may come from the ranks of homeschoolers or private-school students after a recent ABSS policy change.

Isaac Groves / Times-News

   Alamance-Burlington School System’s Virtual Academy lead Frances Wilson, is seen Thursday inside a Virtual Academy classroom at the Career and Technical Education Center. CTEC is looking to expand from last year’s enrollment of 34 students, some of whom may come from the ranks of homeschoolers or private-school students after a recent ABSS policy change.

Virtual Academy looks to expand
CTEC online courses poised to add new students

By Isaac Groves The Times-News 8/17/15  
Reprinted with permission.  

   A policy change could let homeschool and private-school students take classes through the Alamance-Burlington School System’s Virtual Academy.

   “Essentially, what we’re saying is if you’re a home-school or nonpublic school student, you can access the school district through the Virtual Academy and through the Virtual Academy only,” Kent Byrd, program director for secondary education, said in August at the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education’s work session.

   The Virtual Academy began last year with 34 students who spend a half day on campus at the Career and Technical Education Center, Byrd said, giving them flexibility for other things, like jobs. The program could take as many as 50 students this year.

   The Virtual Academy opened in CTEC in the spring term. About half the students come in the morning, and the other half in the afternoon, said Frances Wilson, Virtual Academy lead. Students work in a classroom on CTEC’s second floor. Some bring their own computers, and there are laptops for others.

   Wilson said about half the virtual academy students were coming back for the 2015-16 school year, but new students could bring enrollment up by about 40 percent. It takes a lot of discipline, self-motivation and organization for students to do well setting their own pace.

   “You have half of your kids who are high flyers and want to work at their own speed,” Wilson said. “And you have some kids who need an alternative to a traditional school without distractions.”

   Most did well. All passed their classes.

   The Virtual Academy offers honors and Advanced Placement classes, and four classes from the N.C. School of Science and Math, Wilson said. There are also language classes that ABSS schools do not offer, like Arabic, Russian and Chinese.

   The online classes come from outside vendors, Byrd said, because there had not been enough demand at the academy for ABSS to create its own class content. That could change, he said, as ABSS starts using the content-sharing tools in the state’s computer-based education network, Home Base.

   Students coming from outside ABSS would have to take at least two courses.

   Steve Van Pelt, school board vice chair, asked Byrd whether Virtual Academy courses would allow students to participate in extracurricular activities, like sports.

   “If a home-school student was only enrolled in two courses, they wouldn’t meet the state requirements for participation, so they would have to be enrolled in three,” Byrd said.

   Board member Patsy Simpson said opening up online classes was a good idea, but the district needed to make sure things did not get complicated, saying ABSS might have unexpected obligations once it accepted state funds to teach classes to children not enrolled in district schools.

   Board member Tony Rose asked whether qualifying home and private school students would have to play sports in the school zone where they live, bringing up the possibility of using the academy to get around ABSS rules on athletic transfers. Superintendent Bill Harrison said that was something they needed to look into.

   There are other virtual academies in neighboring districts and around the state, including the North Carolina Virtual Academy. Local students can access the online charter school run by for-profit company K12, which would bring it state funding for teaching those students, Harrison said.

   “I think we can do a better job than K12,” Harrison said.