SILOAM SPRINGS – School board members adopted four steps at the March 11 meeting that pave the way for the Siloam Springs Virtual Academy to become a permanent fixture in the district.
The online academy was already under construction before the onset of the covid-19 pandemic, but the district accelerated the process of opening the school for kindergarten to grade 12 students last fall, in the goal of making it a permanent option.
School board members voted to approve a digital learning plan, a request to change the high school conversion charter, a student policy rider, and a request for exemption from Law 1240.
The waiver of Law 1240 covers kindergarten through eighth grade, while the high school conversion charter amendment covers grades 9 through 12, according to Deputy Superintendent Amy Carter. The digital learning plan, the waiver of Law 1240 and the change to the conversion charter have almost the same content, she said.
The academy requires waivers for attendance, class size, teaching load, six-hour teaching day, clock hours and recess, the learning plan says. In addition, it requires a waiver to allow kindergarten teachers to teach art and music outside their licensed area, he said.
The aim of the online academy is to provide students with a “robust, flexible and fair virtual learning experience as an alternative to on-site teaching”, according to the digital learning plan.
Next year, enrollment will be capped at 180 students, Carter said. Open registration will continue until the end of March, she said.
Students will be taught by school district teachers using the Florida Virtual School curriculum, which will be modified to meet the needs of the district, Carter said.
Teachers will be housed in buildings associated with the grade level they teach, Carter said. Kindergarten to Grade 6 teachers will be dedicated to online teaching, while Grade 7 to 12 teachers will have dedicated online class periods, she said. Special education, English language learning, gifted and talented education and dyslexia services will be provided to virtual students, she said.
While many aspects of the online academy will remain the same, there will be several changes, Carter said. Families must apply to be part of the academy and must meet minimum criteria, she said. The criteria include a list of 11 characteristics of successful online students, such as self-discipline, self-motivation, and strong parental support. The applications will be reviewed by a committee and an appeal process will be put in place, Carter said.
In addition, families must make a one-year commitment to the academy, parents must complete orientation, student and parent contracts are required, and a Chrome-book agreement form must be completed, Carter said. .
District policies have been updated to clarify attendance, discipline and scoring in the online learning environment, according to Assistant Superintendent Shane Patrick.
Student attendance will be based on a daily connection to a school-provided device between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., Carter said. Each day that students do not log in will be considered an absence and students will be subject to all other district attendance policies, the new policy says.
While students are learning online, they will be considered on school grounds, whether they participate in the online class synchronously or asynchronously, the new policy says. Students will be held accountable for respecting and obeying all school policies outlined in the student manual and will be expected to exhibit appropriate behavior, he says.
The grading policy for online students will be consistent with on-site students, the policy says. Student attendance and grades will be monitored weekly and if a student’s grades drop below 70%, they will need to participate in a Zoom or Google Meet session with the teacher to receive an intervention, Carter said.
If academic progress does not improve, a meeting will be held with the student, parents and the academy director and, as a last resort, the student may be returned to the building for on-site instruction, states the learning plan.
The Digital Learning Plan, ACT 1040 Waiver, and the Conversion Charter Amendment will require state approval.
In the other cases, the school board took the following measures:
• Approval of a contract renewal for Rave Mobile Safety.
• Approval of an installations contractor contract for the 2021-2022 school year.
• Approval of a memorandum of understanding with Northwest Arkansas Education Services Cooperative.
• Approved the renewal of administrators’ contracts for the 2021-2022 school year.
• Approved the resignation of seven certified staff.
• Approval of the hiring of Kerri Brown as a high school medical teacher.
• Emergency sick leave approved for a teacher.
• Approved the transfer of two students to the Siloam Springs School District.
• Approved the transfer of one student to the Gentry School District and one student to the Springdale School District.
• Approved allowing a teacher to work during his preparatory period.
Janelle Jessen can be reached by email at [email protected] .