An East Tennessee school is blazing a trail when it comes to education by opening the first online school in the state.
Union County school officials announced on Thursday that they are opening the Tennessee Virtual Academy, which will allow students from across the state to attend school online.
"Our students throughout the state are very involved in social media and social aspects of the technology that's going on, and schools will either need to embrace that or they are going to be not successful," said Wayne Goforth, Union County's director of schools.
The Virtual Public Schools Act went into effect July 1, paving the way for the new school.
Now, students from anywhere in the state, in kindergarten through 8th grade, can enroll in the academy and take all of their classes over the Internet.
"On the (computer) screen, it's like a blackboard, and it's interactive, they can chat, they can ask their questions, they can do their work and the teacher can see the work, they can see who's there and any number of things they can do on the screen, it's the same as when they're sitting in a seat in the classroom," Goforth said.
The school will be operated through the for-profit company K12 Inc., the largest provider of online school programs in the nation.
However, Goforth said the teachers for the school all will be Tennessee-certified and will be hired from East Tennessee.
The director of schools points out that that will boost the local economy by creating new jobs.
The district also will see revenue from the new school. In the state, each school is funded on a per-pupil basis. As the enrollment in the virtual academy, increases, so will the district's funds because Union County will keep a portion of that funding. Meanwhile, the K12 will make a profit with that money as well.
"I'm hoping that it will appeal to those parents who are maybe afraid to send their schools to the public school that's nearby, or maybe that school in their community is failing in some respect, maybe it's on the target list or on the school improvement list, or maybe, there are a lot of factors that could go into this, and some parents, I feel, would rather that their kids stay at home," Goforth said.
Even though only K-8 students can enroll in the school, high-schoolers will be able to take classes, too, including AP courses, which are not currently offered in Union County.
And the online classes will still conform to the class size standards set by the state.
"We hope to expand into the high school courses," Goforth said. "They are ready to go, complete with AP courses and even language courses like Mandarin Chinese, which, in Union County, we would never be able to afford to offer that course."
Goforth adds that many students who enroll may be able to complete their education sooner if they complete courses faster.
However, those students would miss out on the social interaction in school and would not be able to participate in school activities, including sports.
Union County Public Schools has announced plans to open an innovative new online school program.
Director of Schools Wayne Goforth announced the Tennessee Virtual Academy will serve students in Kindergarten through eighth grade starting in the next school year.
"We believe the Tennessee Virtual Academy will be an excellent choice for children who need personalized learning programs," Goforth said.
"Our school district is focused on providing the best education we can for all of our students. This online school is another opportunity for us to be innovative and responsive to the education needs of every child."
The school will utilize an online academic program developed by K12 Inc., the largest provider of online school programs in the nation.
Tennessee Virtual Academy will give students a highly individualized learning program that uses online lessons, assessments, state-of-the-art technology and highly-trained online teachers. The teachers will provide instruction, guidance and support and interact regularly with students through web-based "e-classrooms." The online school also encourages parents to be active participants in their child's education.
The school will follow all the same accountability standards of other Tennessee public schools. Third grade through eighth grade students will still have to take the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) Achievement Test each spring.