The new year brings more than a change of schedule to Lafayette Online Academy, where Scott Middle School principal Venus Soileau has taken over as the program’s virtual learning administrator.
Soileau succeeds Jarrett Coutee, who had been with LOA for approximately four years. Coutee resigned his post effective Dec. 4, according to district staff records. Soileau was announced as the new program manager on December 17 and managed the virtual program while retaining her role as director of Scott Middle until a new director was appointed, she said.
The new virtual program manager has been at Scott Middle since 2017 and previously worked as a teacher and administrator at Paul Breaux Middle and Acadian Middle, according to a district statement. She has 13 years of educational experience, a Masters in Educational Leadership from the American College of Education and spent 14 years in business management before becoming an educator.
The Lafayette Online Academy has been put in the spotlight this year as a school-based learning alternative for parents fearing or afraid to send their children to mainstream school due to the COVID-19 pandemic . Enrollment in the virtual learning program has risen sharply, from an average of a few hundred students to approximately 8,500 students in September.
Soileau said about half, between 4,000 and 5,000 students, remain enrolled in the program until the spring semester, when students again have the opportunity to return to their home school. Many students who left in the fall semester returned to their basic schools, while some opted for home schooling or other learning alternatives, she said.
The new leader said her first priority was to assess the organization of the program, especially with regard to staffing, to ensure students are being served well. The current organizational structure includes Soileau, four other LOA staff, and Core School Virtual Learning Coordinators who assist students.
Soileau said in the fall that the district “has done a great job stepping up and providing the best opportunity … knowing the information we knew at the time,” but now is a good time to think about what. educators learned by navigating the growing ranks of virtual students only and making adjustments.
In October, the Lafayette Parish School Board approved the addition of an LOA program coordinator. The post would pay $ 75,788.79, funded by one-time CARES Act dollars. Soileau said hiring for the position is currently on hold while she assesses the program’s current staffing.
Soileau said another priority is to use parent feedback to help inform program decisions. The administrator said she frequently receives feedback from parents in emails, messages and phone calls, but would like to establish a formal investigation system in the future.
Research efforts will also be concentrated outside the district; Soileau said she values âânetworking and will look to virtual learning programs in other districts for best practices and new ideas. One area that should see little change is the virtual program curriculum.
âI don’t expect us to change anything drastically in the future. I think we have a very good program. Most districts use Edgenuity. I can say that in education we are always looking for the best, so to speak it will never happen, absolutely not, but that is not one of the top goals right now, âsaid Soileau.
The new administrator said she wanted to use her recent experience as a school leader to build a sense of community around LOA and improve communication with parents.
âI hope that families will feel that communication is fluid and if they have any concerns, I am sensitive to their concerns and I can speak with the animators, to be the liaison for their child’s education. I hope families will feel their child is part of a school. One of my biggest goals is to create an environment at LOA in which the community feels as comfortable as any traditional school, âsaid Soileau.
The school administrator said she sees e-learning as an important growth area for education and believes demand will continue to increase in the future as more families seek out flexible options to meet various needs. Soileau said she personally understands the benefits of non-traditional programs; the administrator graduated from an alternative high school program with her GED before going to college.
” It’s a question of choice. It’s about giving families another option without having to shoulder all of the home schooling workload themselves, âshe said.