If you follow the school board meeting, you may already know that the virtual academy is coming to our district. Students enrolled in this program will begin on August 17th in the 2021-22 academic year. This is also the first day of school for those returning to direct instruction. However, not all families want their children to return to the physical campus. This is where the academy is suitable. According to the district’s website, this is an “independent learning program designed for students and families who want a flexible program that maximizes their choices.”
For parents who may be interested in enrolling their children in this program, there is a wealth of information on its website at www.crpusd.org. It contains an overview, frequently asked questions, and a simple form that you can use to show your interest in enrolling your child. Any TK-12 grade student who primarily wishes to be educated online is eligible to participate. Students who are already in the school district will continue to belong to their current school. For example, they are students of record at Monte Vista, even if they previously attended the Monte Vista Elementary. You can get guidance in different ways, but you can participate in clubs, sports, and other activities at your assigned school. This includes parents such as parent-teacher associations and participation in school committees.
However, participation is not limited to students within the CRP USD range. Students from other school districts and neighboring counties in Sonoma are also eligible to participate using the standard sector transfer process. Once accepted, they will be assigned to the School of Records. For example, elementary school students from outside the district are assigned to a university elementary school in Raffiesta. The student then participates in school programs and activities offered on the school’s site as needed.
We sat down with Dr. Luz Elena Perez on July 7th to discuss the background, purpose and design of this virtual academy. She is a district superintendent in charge of educational services. When she was hired, she had over 18 years of experience in designing and participating in virtual academies. One of the first things to discuss is that virtual academies are not. This is online education, but not the distance learning model used during the pandemic. Also, some parents choose instead of homeschooling. It is also not a replacement for the online / face-to-face education hybrid model used in the school district at the end of last year. Rather, it is an updated option within California’s independent research program. “It feels new, but it’s not really new,” Perez said.
The district began the process in January 2021. A design task force was formed to investigate whether the virtual academy is feasible as a district option. This included district employees with special education, technology, independent research, and program manager expertise. An expert virtual academy consultant was also hired. As they moved forward, 14 CRPUSD teachers joined the team. They wanted to ensure that this offering “respects student needs and provides a rich learning environment” for all students. The state has yet to publish legislation for this type of independent research, so the final design has not yet been implemented.
Is this a viable choice for parents? The question was addressed early by the team. The team held a briefing in the district and investigated the family and found that parents were very interested in leaving their children at home and being educated online. The district has a large population of English learners and was particularly interested in the Latin community to take advantage of this option. For a variety of reasons, many told the district that they “want to keep their children safe at home until the vaccine was available.”
As with design, not all staffing and resource decisions are final. However, important decisions have been made. At the elementary level, the teacher assigned to the Virtual Academy will be a CRPUSD teacher. They work with Richard Crane Elementary, which has available space so they can collaborate and share resources as needed. They also have their own admins. Macy Juhora has been hired as the principal of the Virtual Academy. She was previously a vice-principal at Monte Vista and Evergreen.
At the secondary level, instruction is provided through a partnership of CRPUSD and Edgenuity teachers accredited in the field of instruction. CRPUSD teachers act as student advisor teachers and teach outside the Edgenuity platform. Edgenuity teaches core subjects such as math, science, social sciences and English. “When choosing a platform, we considered the program, not the cost,” Perez said. She added that the team wants “the highest quality educational model for students.” They chose Edgenuity. “We are really proud that our district has made this leap,” said Perez. “We have a moral obligation to provide quality education to children whose parents feel they are not ready to meet in person.”