Bradley County Virtual School slated for board vote next week
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Feb 29, 2012 | 2743 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A new option for Bradley County students could be nearing as the Board of Education votes next week on a proposal for a Bradley County Virtual School.

The virtual school would provide students with a completely online option, allowing them to complete classwork anywhere there is an Internet connection.

Zoe Renfro, district coordinator for alternative and adult education, presented her plans for the school during a work session Tuesday.

Renfro said a virtual school could be beneficial to students who are currently home-schooled, attend private school or have life circumstances that make a flexible program beneficial, such as those with health issues or who are working.

“We’ll be one of the few that are doing it ... and one of the even smaller few who are doing secondary school,” Renfro said.

She also sees this as a way to increase the graduation rate in Bradley County.

Board member Christy Critchfield said creating a completely online school would provide an option for students who would consider dropping out of school because they have to get a job.

“This curriculum has really opened up an avenue where they can do it in their own time,” Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel said.

The only time restriction on the school would be students must complete 32.5 hours of classwork each week. This option could be available to students from third- to 12th-grade who meet the other requirements, Renfro said.

This option would also give advanced students the opportunity to work ahead and graduate early.

Renfro said if the school board approves the plan, it will then go to the State for final approval. The proposal would have students start on Aug. 6.

The program if implemented would be provided free of charge to the students. In order to participate, parents of the virtual school prospective student would have to apply, have a computer with high-speed Internet and a printer, as well as attend information and orientation meetings.

Course work would be done online using ODYSSEYWARE software curriculum. Renfro would serve as principal of the virtual school.

Special education student participation would be determined on a case-by-case basis through the Individualized Education Program for the student, according to McDaniel. According to Renfro, the teacher would also have the ability to modify the courses for students with special needs who qualify for the program.

Funding included in Reach Adult High School’s budget would be transferred to start the virtual school. The program would have a projected cost of $52,505 not included in the current budget. However, funding for the two schools will be kept separate if the virtual school becomes a reality.

Students enrolled in Bradley County Virtual School would be considered students of Bradley County Schools for funding and possibly extracurricular activity purposes. The school system would receive the same amount of BEP funding for these students as those who attend a traditional school, McDaniel said. McDaniel said if 15 students enroll, then the school system will have brought in the funding that was not in the budget.

If the board approves it, these students would be able to participate in after-school extracurricular activities. Board member Vicki Beaty said she thought TSSAA did not allow virtual school students to participate on sports teams through their host school systems.

“At this point we are not necessarily going to go after students from other counties, the reason being the testing piece,” Renfro said.

Legislation regarding virtual schools requires that students’ final exams and state-required tests be taken at a school testing location with a monitoring teacher present.

Currently, students who want to attend virtual school have only one option: Tennessee Virtual Academy, the state academy run through the K12 organization.

Board of Education member Troy Weathers asked about the benefits of ODYSSEYWARE over K12. Zenfro said ODYSSEYWARE is more cost efficient.

Teachers would contact students once a week, and be available for tutoring and “office hours,” according to Renfro. Teachers would also hold monthly online class meetings that students will be required to attend.

Bradley County Virtual School will not replace any of the other current alternative education opportunities offered by Bradley County Schools.