June 25, 2021

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Skillful education crafters

School board approves WCS Online schools | News

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The Williamson County Schools Board of Education approved the establishment of two fully online schools — WCS Online for K–8 students and for high schoolers — during its meeting Monday night.

“The executive director of the state board of education let superintendents know just a couple of weeks ago that they did not intend to approve a structure for a student to be fully online next year without a dedicated school,” WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said.

Because WCS had committed to families that online school would be available for students next year, Golden recommended the district move forward with this option, and the board approved. However, some members had questions about the long-term viability of a K–8 online school, particularly when it comes to the elementary grades.

District 2 board member Dan Cash shared during the board’s work session on Thursday that he believes in-person instruction is best for young students.

“It’s elementary education. They need that foundation. They need that teacher. They need that interaction … with other kids,” he said.

Dave Allen, the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, noted during the work session that elementary courses will be largely synchronous, where students will be instructed by teachers in real time.

Golden agreed that in-person education is the best option for most students, but he believes an online option should be available next year. He said he’s not sure what will become of the online schools in post-pandemic times, but he is confident that online high school courses will be a permanent option. The district will evaluate precisely how that will look.

“It’s going to be driven by student choice and the academic and instructional needs of our students,” he said on Monday. “So, at this stage, I’m thinking of it more along the lines of, if a class makes — kind of like that college model — then we’ll offer it.”

Golden said the district is predicting it will have about 900 fully online students in the 2021–2022 school year, down from about 6,600 this year.

Additionally, establishing an online option for families may allow the district to retain students who would otherwise homeschool for a short period of time, Allen said. He shared that, historically, when WCS students return from a period of homeschooling, they tend to be a bit behind, so he hopes WCS Online provides an alternative option for those students.

Golden also noted that establishing these schools will not increase this year’s budget.

Extracurriculars to be separate for WCS Online

Leigh Webb, assistant superintendent for secondary schools, shared during Thursday’s meeting that WCS Online will seek to provide extracurricular programs according to students’ interest, but students will be unable to participate in extracurricular activities at their zoned brick-and-mortar school.

Similarly, according to current TSSAA rules, fully online students will be unable to participate in sports at their zoned school. However, WCS Athletic Director Darrin Joines said he believes the TSSAA board, which is set to discuss the matter in June, will be “a little bit more aggressive about coming to a solution.”

However, if students wish to participate in extracurricular activities, such as theater or marching band (not including sports), they may choose to remain enrolled at a brick-and-mortar school and create a custom hybrid schedule by choosing some individual online classes.

Other business

During Monday’s meeting, the board also passed a capital budget of $10,213,666 for the upcoming fiscal year, which is about 2.79{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} more than the current year’s budget.

The capital budget, which is separate from the district’s operational budget, includes maintenance, replacement and IT projects.

Additionally, the district accepted a $20,000 donation from the Williamson County Health Department to go towards a walking trail around Sunset Middle and Sunset Elementary schools.