Regional Virtual Academy is on the way

Published 6:00 am Friday, February 26, 2021

Buckingham County Public School (BCPS) students grades 6-12 who performed well in virtual learning this past year and also those in the county who are home schooled will soon have a permanent public school virtual learning option they can participate in.

Daisy Hicks

The Buckingham County School Board voted 6-0 Wednesday, Feb. 10, for BCPS to participate in the Region VIII Virtual Academy.

BCPS Superintendent Dr. Daisy Hicks shared the key details about the virtual academy during the board meeting.

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“We are pretty excited about an opportunity to explore and have this regional virtual academy,” she said. “As you all know, some of our students have excelled in virtual learning during the pandemic.”

She compared this offering to the one extended to students through the governor’s school, and then she provided a history as to why a virtual academy is being considered.

“We know we lost some students,” she said, noting BCPS enrollment is down due to home schooling and parents opting to go with a virtual platform called K12. “And so we’re hoping that this will increase and get our students back to the public school side.”

Hicks explained how the regional aspect of this virtual academy will benefit both BCPS teachers and the school division overall.

“This would allow us to be able to do it as a regional (offering) versus putting the stress on our teachers to do both (in-person and virtual teaching) as they have been doing during this pandemic, as well as it would allow us to keep that enrollment of those students,” she said. “So we still would get our funding for those students, and that would allow anybody who’s interested to move from the home-school setting to come to this platform and then they would be a Buckingham County Public School student, which would also allow them activities and the events and sports and that type thing that true home schoolers do not have an opportunity to participate in at this point.

“We feel that, as we know, the pandemic has caused many heartaches, but out of it, it is allowing us to do some things that we probably wouldn’t have thought of before now,” she continued. “And we always said we want to prepare our students for the real world, and we know when students go off to college, many of their classes are online.”

She also pointed out that adults in the working world also transitioned to work from home last year, and she said that if BCPS is preparing its students for the future, it should be able to offer them a traditional brick-and-mortar setting and a virtual setting for learning.

Hicks is serving as the chair for the Region VIII Virtual Academy Planning Committee.

Preliminary program details for the virtual academy include that it will be for grades 6-12, students will be fully virtual and the anticipated start date is fall 2021. A Google learning platform will be utilized, and classes will follow Standards of Quality (SOQ) requirements.

“The SOQ requirements with this would still be the same SOQ requirements of being brick and mortar, so you couldn’t, per se, have a hundred students that one teacher would be teaching in virtual, to make that consistent,” Hicks said. “So we would follow that.”

In terms of funding, Hicks said the initial thing that BCPS would have to do is put up a $10,000 one-time payment to cover the cost of a director of this virtual learning platform.

“A lot of us are looking to use CARES Act funding for that because that supports that, so it wouldn’t be anything out of our local budget,” Hicks said.

She noted that BCPS usually receives a little more than $6,000 per student.

“We would take half of that amount and send it to support each student that’s going into that program,” she said, referring to the virtual academy. “So instead of us losing our whole $6,000 from people enrolling in K12 and home schooling and whatever other venue they might desire to go in, if they have the opportunity to do virtual learning, we would at least be able to hold onto half of that funding.

“So basically, that funding would be, when you look at half, we would not be reducing our teachers, our staff here, based on the enrollment that would go to the virtual academy,” she added. “We would pretty much use that money for the material and instructional supply cost that we use per student.”

She noted she did a student interest survey with regard to the virtual academy.

“Out of the 162 families who completed the survey, we had 62 students who were people that were interested from those various grade levels,” she said.

The virtual academy may have to expand beyond grades 6-12, though.

“We may have to come back and look to include K-12 instead of just 6-12, especially if the legislators vote to allow parents to do this, because again, we don’t want to put that burden on our teachers to be able to have to do both, if at all possible,” Hicks said. “So that would be one of the guidelines that we would look at or processes that we would look at as we move forward.”

After voting to participate in the virtual academy, the Buckingham School Board voted to make James River board member Sherry S. Ragland the board’s representative on the virtual academy board, with Marshall board member Rachel M. Castello-Dunn serving as the alternate.