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BISD continues virtual academy discussions in Whitbeck's last meeting before moving to Fort Bend ISD

BISD continues virtual academy discussions in Whitbeck's last meeting before moving to Fort Bend ISD

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Monday night’s Bryan school board meeting continued the district’s discussion about a virtual academy for elementary and intermediate school students after receiving preliminary interest from families.

A survey sent out to families of currently enrolled students in kindergarten through sixth grade yielded 171 student applications from families interested in their student attending a virtual academy, Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Barbara Ybarra said at the meeting.

In her update, Ybarra said the Texas Education Agency advised districts last week that local virtual academies can broaden their reach by serving students in the attendance zone who are currently home schooled or enrolled in a private or charter school. A second survey for families in the community interested in the virtual academy will be available on the district’s website at bryanisd.org.

The virtual academy, if approved by the school board, would serve elementary students in kindergarten through sixth grade initially with the flexibility to expand to secondary grade levels in the future, she said. Learning would be done synchronously, meaning students would follow a class schedule and have live instruction, throughout the day with breaks included.

The district chose to switch to elementary grade levels due to the amount of requests the district received from concerned parents due to the COVID-19 situation. The interest was spread across all grade levels ranging from 17 student applications in second grade and 33 in sixth grade.

That would amount to one or one-and-a-half classes per grade level, she said.

The next step, Ybarra said, is analyzing which of those currently enrolled students are eligible for the virtual academy.

Part-time and full-time positions for virtual teachers have been posted, she said, and the district has been interviewing candidates.

Beyond the eligibility requirements, the district would have discretion to allow a student to enroll in the virtual academy on a probationary basis if needed and also will have the ability to send any students back to in-person learning if they are unsuccessful in the virtual setting.

Ybarra said she does not know how the potential approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11 would impact interest but families responding to the survey are asked to commit at least through December.

She anticipates having further discussion in October and ideally would like to have the information needed to make a recommendation to the board.

Some board members expressed concerns about the response rate, but others said a smaller number of students might be helpful at the start if the virtual setting is appropriate for the enrolled students.

Ybarra said her department will make a recommendation to the board if it has funds available, the quality staff necessary to educate the students and parents who will partner with the district and be with their student at home.

Monday’s meeting also marked Christie Whitbeck’s last Bryan school board meeting as superintendent. Her last day is Wednesday, and she will begin her time as superintendent in the Fort Bend school district on Oct. 6.

During her superintendent’s report, she reflected on the work that has been done since she joined the district in 2017, including the revamp of the transportation system, the opening of new campuses, the approval of two bonds totaling $187 million that have allowed for safety upgrades, improvements to current campuses and the construction of the district’s third intermediate school.

She expects the district to continue to have a focus on academic achievement, noting the district’s College, Career and Military Readiness score of 90 and 90% graduation rate for the class of 2020.

One of her favorite things is the implementation of the Essential Eight program, she said.

“I just, again, want to thank this board, thanking those of you that had confidence in a superintendent that hadn’t been a superintendent before; had only been a deputy, and I just thank you for that," she said. "And know that we’re going to work as a team to make sure that everything is handed off, that the baton is passed without dropping it.”

Deputy Superintendent Ginger Carrabine will take over as interim superintendent on Thursday.

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