Photo by Heather Middleton
By Jeylin White
Clayton County school officials presented several updates to the Board of Education during Monday night's scheduled meeting, but the highlight of the evening was the district's alternative center's plans to go "virtual."
Dr. Carl Jackson, coordinator of the Alternative Center, and Melvin Blocker, director of the Perry Learning Center, described the school system's plans to turn the alternative program into a "Virtual Academy," beginning this fall.
The move, according to the two, and School Board Chairperson Pam Adamson, could have positive implications for academic improvement, help with discipline problems, and should also help with the school system's budget-reduction plan.
"We're changing the alternative program to virtual, because [the current program] is not working," said Adamson. "It will save [the district] money in the process, but not that much [money], if you factor in the cost for the computers and program materials."
The Virtual Academy will provide an alternative method of learning for students who are attending the current alternative center, and others who are not performing well in a traditional class setting, according to Blocker.
Blocker said school officials got together to revamp the current alternative program, and create a non-traditional method to help motivate students. Through the Virtual Academy, high school and middle school students will be provided with laptop computers, which will give them the opportunity to learn from home.
During the meeting, School Superintendent Edmond Heatley spoke highly of the switch to a virtual alternative-learning program. He said he believes the new method will help alleviate a lot of the behavioral issues at the alternative school.
"We want [students] to get focused on education, and the discipline alone is why we're going to the virtual program," said Heatley.
Adamson agreed, saying that, when student's get out of control, it affects the [students'] capacity to learn, and teachers are not able to execute their lesson plans.
"I don't know if this is the [whole] answer, but I know what we're currently doing is not working," said Adamson. "Kids are not engaged in the classroom at the alternative school, and we have not been serving them well." The new method [going virtual] will allow the students some flexibility, she said, and require them to take more responsibility for their education and actions.
Although Heatley and Adamson were in favor of the move, a few board members expressed concerns, particularly whether students will be responsible enough to properly handle school computers in their possession. Adamson said she understands the concerns, but still believes this will be a good alternative for students and parents.
"We have had parents [plead] with us not to put their child in alternative school, because it's not a good learning environment," she said. "So, I believe this new method will work best for the student and parents."
Adamson said the computers given to the students will be "strictly" monitored by school staff members. In addition, high school students will be required to check in with their teachers once a week, and staff members will meet with the students' parents to explain the proper use of the computers. Parents and students will have to sign a wavier form, and they will be responsible for any damage to the computers.
During their presentation to the board, Jackson and Blocker pointed out that the Virtual Academy program has been utilized in other school system's around Georgia, including nearby Fayette County. According to Blocker and Jackson, Fayette County school officials have reported seeing progress in student achievement, after going virtual.
The Virtual Academy is set to begin this fall for students attending the alternative center, and classes will be re-located to the Perry Learning Center, Blocker said.
Adamson added that students, who attend the Virtual Academy, are still required to report to class and complete the required standardized tests.
Heatley said the program will be tested for one year, and school officials will closely monitor and track student progress throughout the year.