published Friday, April 19th, 2013

Bradley County Virtual School growing

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Contact the Bradley County Virtual School at 423-464-3251 or visit the website at http://www.bradleyvirtualschool.org/index.html

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Officials with the Bradley County Virtual School are requesting more teachers and expanded Internet access to meet the needs of a growing student body.

In a recent presentation to the Bradley County Board of Education, virtual school Principal Zoe Renfro requested a budget of $140,000, which would allow for adding two part-time teachers to a mixed faculty of nine full-time and part-time instructors.

The additional teachers are needed to support secondary-level math and English courses for the middle school and high school students who comprise most of the current enrollment of 40 students. Enrollment is projected to jump to 80 by this fall, and the increased faculty is expected to serve up to 100 students. The virtual school already brings in enough state funding, at $4,000 per student, to pay for the requested budget, Renfro said.

Education officials discussed plans for the school's future growth.

Board member Chris Turner asked if school administrators had a plan for handling 500 students -- not 100 -- as digital interaction becomes increasingly ever-present.

"Benchmarks for the revolution are out there," Turner said.

"That would be a great problem to have," Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools, said of the enrollment projection. But to serve 500 students, he added, the system would need to move staff from traditional school settings to the virtual environment.

Officials also discussed the virtual school's curriculum and flexible attendance requirements.

Bradley County Virtual School has a number of courses in common with the county school system, said Renfro, but the curriculum is not identical.

"Even Walker Valley High School and Bradley Central High School don't offer the same things," Renfro said, stating the differences don't equate with substandard learning environments.

According to feedback from parents of participating students, the virtual school's curriculum has been described as "challenging but not frustrating" and "rigorous, relevant and challenging."

The virtual school is a 24/7 endeavor, Renfro said, which allows students to work whenever they like, so long as they average four hours a day. The flexibility to complete their 20-hour weeks as they please helps families with special needs, she said.

A student's 20 hours are spent between time logged into the school's virtual system and other activities.

Feedback is driving a number of possible changes regarding the face-to-face component of the school, Renfro said. Classes may meet twice a month instead of once per month in the next school year, and some instruction regarding analytical thinking may take place in person, she said.

Open enrollment for Bradley County Virtual School begins on June 1.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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