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Q&A with Guilford County Schools about virtual academies

Chief Academic Officer Dr. Whitney Oakley is clearing up some confusion about the newly-approved virtual academy option.
Credit: WFMY News 2

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Guilford County parents now have the option to keep their kids in an all virtual school.

RELATED: Guilford County Schools to launch two tuition-free virtual schools

Virtual school means learning from home five days a week, as a part of the district's newly-approved virtual academies.

RELATED: Virtual vs. remote school: Triad districts say there are differences

Parents and students alike have many questions, so Chief Academic Officer Dr. Whitney Oakley cleared up some confusion. 

Q: The deadline to apply for a virtual academy is August 1. Is there any way that could be extended since we don't even know which reentry scenario the board will choose until July 28?

A:  We may be able to extend the deadline beyond August 1, but we also have to build our staffing plan and makes sure we have the right number of teachers for the students who register, so we are encouraging parents to register if they are interested in the virtual option understanding that we do have a Board of Education meeting on July 28. We are encouraging people to register as soon as they can but we understand parents are weighing a lot of options on the table right now.

Q: If you do register for virtual schools now, can you back out later?

A: It's just like registering for any other school so the registration process is the same. We would ask once the school year begins that students stay for the full first semester. However if a parent changed their mind after the initial registration before the school year starts, we would accommodate that.

Q: Did educators undergo any training this summer to better-prepare for virtual teaching? 

A: We’ve had teacher professional opportunities that began in June. We’ve had more than 6,600 people participating in professional learning since the beginning of the summer. We’re also currently building a bank of how-to videos for our parents to access. We will also be able to offer some socially distant, safe opportunities in conjunction with Guilford Parent Academy for parents to come in, practice logging on to see what it looks like and have specific examples.

Q: So the virtual academy won't look like remote learning did at the end of the last school year?

A: We’re building a blend of opportunities for parents and teachers to make sure we have a smooth transition regardless of what the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year looks like. It won’t be perfect but it will be better than when we had to turn it around over a weekend in mid-March.

Q: How many people have registered so far?

A: People are registering as we speak. We have more than 2,000 students who have registered. 

Q: Will there be a cap or limit as to how many people can attend virtual academies?

A: Quickly when we put out the word about virtual academy we heard many parents were interested and we did not want any parent to be turned down, so this is merely a registration not an application and there is no cap.

Q: Is everyone who registers for virtual school accepted automatically?

A: It's merely a registration so there is not a list of criteria. It's just a registration as if you were going into a front office in a school. 

Q: Working parents are concerned they will not be able to help their children on weekdays. Will you be able to access lessons on weekends?

A: It’s a combination.There will be opportunities for students to access recordings of live instructions if they’re not able to access at the moment the live instruction is being delivered but we know from digital best practices around the nation and internationally that you have to provide a blend. You have to provide students with work they can do on their own but it's really important to have that time with teachers. It will also include opportunities for small group instruction and individual check-ins with teachers to makes sure that learning is going well and if any tweaks need to be made. Feedback is important. 

Q: Will lessons be recorded or live? What will a typical school day look like from home?

A: A blend. So I would say of the six hours a day you might have a 40 minute math lessons 3-4 days a week, and reading instruction targeted to meet your needs 3-4 days a week, and in between you’re completing some independent work you can then have feedback on, and check in with a small group. So it’s really a blend that includes both live and recorded opportunities.

Q: How will testing be implemented?

A: We have not received any changes from the state on testing. Students in virtual schools follow the same accountability measures.

Q: If students don't have easy access to connectivity or devices, are they not able to register for virtual schools?

A: It doesn’t rule them out. We share with parents during registration that connectivity is critical and where we can, we will help if they have struggles with connectivity but we cannot guarantee as a school system that we can provide connectivity for every household. That’s why this is more of a community issue that we’ve taken on. We’re continuing to procure devices for students. We distributed 17,000 devices last year, Guilford Education Alliance helped us rally a group of donors who were able to purchase devices for students to keep and then we purchased some more over the summer.

 Q: How will you decide which teachers are going to strictly teach virtually? Is the district hiring?

A: We have teachers who are at risk so we want to make sure these teaching opportunities are given initially to those people who are in the at-risk categories, but the application is open to other teachers as well. We always need teachers, the pandemic has not changed the fact that there’s a teacher shortage so our application is available to anyone who is licensed and meets cirteria for teaching elementary or secondary school level.

Q: Are AP classes offered in virtual schools?

A: Yes. 

The district created a FAQ sheet for its most frequently asked questions about virtual schools. Dr. Oakley said they are constantly updating it with the latest information.