East TN's newest cyber academy denied approval by state, for now

5:56 AM, Aug 9, 2013   |    comments
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Several hundred students hoped to start class on their home computer from East Tennessee's newest virtual school in the next few days.

But the State Department of Education is putting Tennessee Cyber Academy on hold.

As we've been reporting, Campbell County School Board voted 9-1 to partner with the for-profit company K12, Inc. to open a new public school offering homeschooling via the internet to students in Campbell County and across the state.

The K12, Inc. program is currently used in another publicly funded virtual school in Union County called the Tennessee Virtual Academy. The company's curriculums are also used in 2,000 other school districts in all 50 states.

Campbell County Schools start Friday and administrators are encouraging anyone who applied for TCA to enroll at your local school until they receive notice from the state.

According to a letter sent to Campbell County Schools by the Deputy Commissioner of Education, Dr. Kathleen Airhart, TCA has not been approved to operate the school.

The state said their application did not contain information needed to issue TCA a school number. The letter said Campbell County Schools failed to include items such as the number of teachers, length of student day, and what tests will be administered. It also said that Campbell County Schools provided a brochure with K12, Inc's information but that it was not adequate to provide information about the management plan for the school.

"We appreciate your desire to provide additional education opportunities to students; however, we remain concerned about your ability to successfully open and operate this school for the 2013-2014 school year. Please note that until you have received approval, the proposed school is not eligible to receive public funds for enrolled students," Dr. Airhart said in the letter.

Campbell County School's Manager of Special Projects, Dr. Eunice Reynolds, said they are working to get them the necessary paperwork.

"A lot of it is information that has been sent. We are in the process of trying to confirm and review every item," Dr. Reynolds said.

Dr. Reynolds said despite the setbacks, she still believes the school will open by the end of August.

"I feel like it will happen. First, I have a lot of faith that what we've been trying to do for our children won't be just swept away. Because we are very sincerely interested in doing what's best for the children," she said.

Dr. Reynolds, who has worked in education for 45 years, said said virtual schools are a necessity not just for their students but for students across the state who will also be eligible to apply.

"There are so many types of students that need a different environment," Dr. Reynolds said. "Many, many [parents] have called asking, 'Please help! This is what I have prayed for, for my child, because my child has serious medical conditions requiring hospitalization frequently.'"

The only person on the Campbell County School Board to vote against TCA, Eugene Lawson, had no knowledge of the state's letter. But he did not approve of K12's proposal in the first place based his research from Union County's virtual school.

The 2011-2012 TCAP data available showed Tennessee Virtual Academy students scored in the bottom 11% of the state and the Union County Director of Schools said 2012-2013 data shows the school once again performed poorly on the TCAP.

"Their scores had been very low and they didn't appear to be measuring up. If we set up a virtual school in our county, the scores of that virtual school will be compiled with our scores in the regular program and we're already fighting to try to pull our scores up. I don't want anything to pull them down," said Lawson.

Dr. Reynolds said TCAP scores in Union County do not mean that Campbell County will also perform poorly. 

"Another school system's scores being bad two years in a row does not discourage me because we look at each situation uniquely and separately," said Dr. Reynolds.

While Campbell County School's website still says students can apply to enroll in "an exciting opportunity" in TCA, they are encouraging all who have applied to enroll in their local district until they learn the final decision from the state.

 

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