The Lafayette Online Academy plans to move into a larger stand-alone space as the virtual learning program continues to grow and online learning takes more of the spotlight as parents and children navigate the uncertain educational terrain amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
On May 13, the Lafayette Parish School Board authorized the Lafayette Parish School System to renegotiate a lease with Mendoza Real Estate for a property at the intersection of Ambassador Caffery Parkway and Ridge Road. The property, which once housed POSH Preowned, has been vacant for months, said Kyle Bordelon, director of facilities and planning for LPSS.
The site is under contract through October, but LPSS is considering terminating the lease early to move the online academy to the space. The current building features an open-plan main space with small offices along one wall, bathrooms, and a break room or meeting space. It was originally a gas station, but the building was renovated when POSH moved into the space about five years ago, Bordelon said.
The building would require few changes; major needs include adding 30 to 40 computers along with computer tables and other office furniture, he said.
Lafayette Online Academy would then move from Southside High School to the 3300 block site of Ambassador Caffery Parkway, a high-traffic area that will provide the program with greater exposure. Located on a bus route, it’s also accessible to students who need to visit the facility, said Jarrett Coutee, director of Lafayette Online Academy.
The exact timing of the move is still being decided, he said.
The online academy was launched four years ago as an alternative to a traditional classroom environment. Prior to its founding, the school system used online learning for credit recovery and high school summer school learning, he said.
Last year, the program served about 200 K-12 students and the online academy graduated about 40 students. Every year since its launch, the program has attracted new students, the director said. Registration is offered year-round.
“The goal is to make things as flexible as possible for students and families…it’s a very flexible setup and rather than a student molding themselves around a program, we’re designing something for them” , Coutee said. “We want to meet the needs of modern families.
Students complete a bespoke online curriculum and complete courses through the Edgenuity platform. Benchmarks are set, but students can access the program around the clock and set their own pace. Built-in tools include read-aloud options in multiple languages, teacher lecture transcripts and amenities like extended duration, Coutee said.
The flexibility of a virtual classroom is supported by full academic support by two LPSS-certified teachers and a school counselor. Teachers work primarily with students in sixth through 12th grade and may take difficult lessons, revise test materials, offer tutoring, invigilate in-person exams, and generally provide all classroom-type support services at their desks. principal, he said.
Students in kindergarten through fifth grade are largely managed through a partnership with Fuel Education, a digital education services company, the principal said.
Teachers are also closely tracking student progress and real-time performance data, Coutee said. Edgenuity allows teachers to track a student’s progress through lessons, quizzes, and tests to ensure they meet benchmarks. If they slow down too much or fail an element too often, teachers will be alerted for intervention.
The student’s difficulty may be related to the way he approaches the course, the arrangement of his work schedule or his note-taking skills. LPSS teachers review their work, meet with the student and diagnose these issues, he said.
“[Edgenuity] is really innovative and advanced yet simple to use. You can use the best courseware, but it’s important to have great teachers behind it, and I think we have both at Lafayette Online Academy,” Coutee said.
There is no clear picture of the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on enrollment in the online academy, but Coutee said he anticipates there may be increased interest in a non-traditional learning environment as concerns persist about when students will return to campuses in the fall and what school will look like.
Coutee said he and his staff are ready to increase enrollment if that happens. Program scaling is fast and flexible; the main requirement would be to hire additional teachers if needed and ensure there are sufficient computer stations in their main office to serve students, he said.
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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Lafayette Online Academy director Jarrett Coutee. The Acadiana Advocate regrets the error.