If you follow the school board meetings, you may already know that a Virtual Academy is coming to our district. Students enrolled in this program start on August 17 for the 2021-22 school year. This is also the first day of school for those returning to in-person instruction. However, not every family wants their child to return to the physical campus. This is where the academy fits in. It’s “an Independent Study program designed for students and families who want a flexible program that maximizes choice” according to the district’s website.
There is a wealth of information on that website at www.crpusd.org for parents who may be interested in enrolling their children in this program. That includes an overview, frequently asked questions, and a simple form to use expressing interest in having their children enroll. Any student, TK-12th grade who wants their education primarily via online is eligible to participate. For students already in the district, they will remain attached to their current school. For example, if they were previously attending Monte Vista Elementary, they are still a student of record at Monte Vista. Although their method of receiving instruction is different, they will be able to participate in any clubs, sports, or other activities at their assigned school. This includes parents, such as participating in the PTA or school committees.
Participation, however, is not limited to students within the CRPUSD boundaries. Students in other school districts within Sonoma and neighboring counties are also eligible to participate using the standard inter-district transfer process. When accepted they will be assigned a school of record. For example, an elementary student coming from out of the district will be assigned to University Elementary at La Fiesta. That student would then also participate in school programs and activities offered at that school site as desired and available.
Having sat down with Dr. LuzElena Perez on July 7 to discuss the background, purpose and design of this Virtual Academy. She is the Assistant Superintendent of the district responsible for Educational Services. When she was hired, she brought with her over 18 years of experience in designing and participating in Virtual Academies. One of the first things discussed is what a Virtual Academy isn’t. While it is online education, it isn’t the Distance Learning model used during the pandemic. It also isn’t homeschooling, a choice some parents make. It also isn’t a replacement for the hybrid model of online/in-person education used by the district towards the end of last school year. Rather, it’s an updated option within California’s Independent Study program. Perez said it “feels new but isn’t really new.”
The district started the process in January 2021. A design task force was formed to explore whether a Virtual Academy was feasible as an option for the district. This included district employees with expertise in special education, technology, independent study and program administrators. An expert Virtual Academy consultant was also hired. As they moved forward, 14 CRPUSD teachers joined the team. They wanted to ensure this offering would “honor student needs and provide an enriching learning environment” for all students. The final design isn’t in place yet, as the state is still coming out with legislation for this type of Independent Study.
Is this a viable choice for parents? That question was addressed early on by the team. Holding information sessions and surveying families in the district, the team found there was high interest from parents in having their children remain at home and obtaining their education online. There is a large population of English learners in the district and the interest was especially high in the Latino community to have this option. While there were a variety of reasons, many told the district that “we want our children safe at home until there is a vaccine” available for them.
Like the design, not all staffing and resource decisions are finalized. However, key decisions have been made. For elementary grade levels, the teachers assigned to the Virtual Academy will be CRPUSD teachers. They will work out of Richard Crane Elementary which has the available space so they can collaborate and share resources as needed. They will have their own administrator too. Macy Juhola has been hired as the principal for the Virtual Academy. She previously served as assistant principal at Monte Vista and Evergreen.
At the secondary level, the instruction will be provided by a partnership of CRPUSD and Edgenuity teachers certified in their fields of instruction. The CRPUSD teachers will serve as Advisor Teachers to the students and provide instruction outside of the Edgenuity platform. Edgenuity will provide instruction in core subjects such as Math, Science, Social Studies and English. Perez said, “when we were picking the platform, we didn’t look at the cost, we looked at the program.” She added that the team wanted “The highest quality instructional model for our students.” They chose Edgenuity. Perez said, “I’m really proud that our district took this leap.” “We have a moral obligation to provide quality education to kids whose parents don’t feel ready for in-person” instruction.