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TCSS talks future of virtual classes

By Cole Trahan

At the Troup County Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Callaway High School principal and incoming secondary curriculum director Jonathan Laney discussed plans for virtual classes for the Troup County School System for the upcoming school year.

TCSS offered virtual classes during the 2020-2021 school year through the Troup County Virtual Academy, but now plans are being laid for the future of virtual schooling.

“These are all preliminary plans based on what we believe is going to happen,” Laney said. “Once we begin registering students for virtual education based on the number of children who registered, there may need to be adjustments made.”

Laney said that for middle school, the virtual academy aims to target “families and students with medical concerns,” those with beliefs that lead them to prefer virtual schooling, and those with a virtual learning preference. He also explained that having a virtual school would enable teachers to choose between teaching face-to-face or teaching virtually instead of having to do both.

He said that at the middle school level, students would have daily lessons from 8:20 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break. There would be 30 students per class and 60 students per grade level, so a total of 180 students. Days would be divided into six periods, and students would study four content areas and an elective. Laney also said there would be gifted, special education and ESOL services.

“What are the expectations for kids?” Laney said. “We want the families who are saying that virtual education is the right environment for their students to be able to provide reliable internet connectivity. We want them to have good daily attendance, academic success. They will have a virtual contract they’ll have to sign saying that they understand these rigorous expectations.”

For the sake of equity, Laney announced plans to provide a uniform background for all students while they are using their webcams. He also said TCSS is looking at ways for all major assessments to be taken in person.  For the 2021-2022 school year, virtual middle school teachers may be housed at Long Cane Middle School or in modular buildings at Hope Academy. And for the 2022-2023 school year, they might be housed at Unity Elementary.

Plans are a little different for virtual high school classes. Laney said they would remain on school campuses and have a blended instructional model, meaning teachers would teach students virtually and face-to-face.

As for why high school classes are expected to follow a blended model, Laney explained that high schools have more course offerings for certain subjects. As an example, he explained that there are more math classes at the high school level than there are at the middle school level, and they’re more dissimilar from each other at the high school level than they are at the middle school level.

“In high school, we offer ten different math classes,” said Laney. “So, you don’t need just one virtual math teacher; you need multiple in order to provide all those.”

As for the application process, Laney said, “We want to make sure the kids who are coming in that virtual environment have the prerequisite skills to be successful there. We want to provide them support, but we need them to be able to flourish in that environment. So, we’re going to try to make sure we get the students who can do that.”

He said students would have to have strong track records of success and attendance in virtual classes. However, he said those who didn’t meet these requirements but had health concerns could attend school virtually.

“We will be meeting with these families monthly to review progress,” said Laney, referring to all virtual high school students. “The counseling departments would review their progress monthly, and if they’re not meeting goals, then we would put in some sort of an improvement plan. If they don’t improve after that, we would require that they come back face-to-face.”

Virtual high school students would have four 90-minute classes and a 30-minute lunch break.

“And we’re looking right now at the use of ceiling-mounted cameras to broadcast the instruction that’s happening in the classroom,” Laney said. “Elective options would be limited to courses that are easily taught or are effectively taught in a virtual environment.”

Laney said that as with virtual middle school classes, virtual high school classes would have a digital background.