Adams 12 to create permanent online school

Adams 12 Five Star Schools is developing a plan for remote learning during the 2021-21 school year and beyond.

The learning model that the district boosted during the COVID-19 pandemic will take on a new life in future years as a standalone entity, district staff explained to the board of education at an April 21 meeting. The merit of remote learning extends beyond adaptability to a pandemic and can offer some families much-preferred flexibility.

The decision parallels that of 27J Schools, which recently announced it will establish a standalone online school.

The idea for a permanent online school is “making lemonade out of lemons,” said Adams 12 Board Director Brian Batz. It’s an opportunity, he added, “to really collaborate and expand on what was almost nonexistent or was nonexistent a couple years ago. So, I think it’s a really great opportunity to seize.”

The other board directors were in agreement, although several noted there will be wrinkles to iron out. “I’m excited to see what happens next year and then what it turns into in the following years,” said Board President Kathy Plomer.

The district’s plans for remote learning are already evolving and will continue to do so. This year, teachers taught both online and in-person students. However, the plan for the 2021-22 year is to have a staff of educators who teach remote learning full-time.

That will basically drive the formation of two online schools: one for K-8 and one for high schoolers. One principal and one assistant principal will oversee both. The K-8 school will have 32 classroom teachers plus six specialized or elective teachers. The high school will have 16 core academic teachers, according to a presentation from Priscilla Straughn, chief academic officer, and Beau Foubert, executive director of curriculum and instruction.

The district will post the positions internally, meaning they aren’t additional jobs that Adams 12 will create, Straughn explained. The district has already posted the principal position.

The full-time online staff — whom Adams 12 plans to still be working out of district buildings — is critical to creating a sustainable, long-term school, Straughn said. This year, educators who are teaching in-person and online students, “are really struggling to manage how to tend to the in-person needs of their students and also tend to the online needs of their students,” she said.

The 2021-22 school year will be a bridge between the old remote learning model and the new one. Because children younger than 16-years-old aren’t eligible to receive the vaccine, there will still be families who opt for remote learning due to health concerns. In response to a March survey, 1,150 students opted for remote learning next year. Over 350 are elementary-aged, 230 are in middle school and 400 are high-schoolers. Those students’ schedules and lesson plans will be similar to that of in-person students.

However, after students are able to receive the vaccine in future years, families will opt for remote learning for other reasons. That’s where the new principal, “will be really important as we transition from an online program that’s part of dealing and navigating through a pandemic into an online school that’s an important option for families to consider in a major metropolitan school district,” Foubert said.

There are many considerations for a long-term, fully online school, around professional development for teachers, the formation of student clubs and providing opportunities for occasional in-person learning experiences, among others, Straughn said.

As for right now, though, Foubert said, “This is the starting point.”

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