Online Coursework at Georgia School District Supports Rigorous Standards
The first thing Bartow County Virtual Academy students learn is that online classes aren’t as easy as A, B, C. They’re also not for everyone.
Those also were early lessons for district administrators who opened the academy in January 2012 to 50 students—10 times as many as anticipated—in a former high school located an hour northwest of Atlanta. “A lot of kids thought it would be a piece of cake, but Aventa is very rigorous; you have to work,” says Jim Gottwald, executive director of secondary curriculum and student services for the Bartow County School System.
K12 is the nation’s leading provider of proprietary curriculum and online education programs for K12 students, offering more than 550 unique courses and titles. Aventa Learning, one of four curricula offered by K12, offers more than 170 classes, including credit recovery, for middle and high school students, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. “What we learned in the first six months is if you’re not serious about working online, and you’re not online every day, keeping up with assignments, you will not be successful,” Gottwald says. “Now we require prospective students to apply for the academy. We review applications, transcripts, discipline and attendance records and make accepted students sign a contract.”
Today, the academy has about 35 full-time juniors, seniors, and fifth-year seniors who need to make up classes to graduate. The blended learning model features Aventa curriculum, which includes K12 teachers certified in Georgia available to help students who work virtually and in a classroom at the county’s learning center. Students take all password-protected tests in the building and meet weekly with a counselor to ensure they’re on track. Having rigorous academic standards was one reason Bartow County selected K12 over other vendors. Support and program features sealed the deal, Gottwald says. “The new technology from K12 allows us to see how many times a student has signed on and how much time they’ve spent on a class,” he says. “K12 finds highly qualified teachers for online courses, and there’s open communication between the teacher and student.”
While it’s still early days for the academy, the district has seen promising results and is looking to the future—attracting students who have dropped out but now want to finish their diploma, or homeschooled students who don’t have academic support at home for challenging high school courses. Down the hall from the virtual academy is an alternative school for students with discipline problems or other issues that prevent them from attending classes at their local school.
About 40 students attend morning or afternoon sessions at the Transition Center, which uses the A+nyWhere Learning System, also from K12. “I like the flexibility of A+,” Gottwald says. “It allows a student to pick up a course right where they left it in the classroom, then return to their local school seamlessly, and be at or even ahead of where their class is.” The Transitional Center has one math teacher and a teacher certified in different areas, including special education. They help students there and occasionally walk down the hall to assist virtual academy students. “Our district superintendent, John Harper, was the driving force behind the virtual programs,” Gottwald says. “He realized today’s kids learn differently than we did. Not every student is suited to sit in a classroom for hours. His vision was to provide an opportunity for every student in this county to get an education, whether it was in a classroom or online.”
For more information, go to www.k12.com/educators.