Despite attempts at establishing the BISD Virtual Academy for the 2021-2022 school year, Bryan school district administrators recommended pursuing the option for the 2022-2023 school year.
“It is something that the administration feels that is out there as an interest for families, and we want to be able to provide opportunities, but we wanted to be able to open it with the right conditions, so students are successful,” Barbara Ybarra, associate superintendent for teaching and learning for the school district, said told the board in her update at Monday’s workshop.
In total, she said, the district received responses for about 170 students, but not all met the three criteria set by the state to qualify automatically for the virtual academy.
On the staffing side, she said, the district received a few dozen applications from teachers — both local and elsewhere in the state and country — who were interested in being part of the virtual academy; however, not all the applicants had the necessary credentials to teach the elementary subjects.
The relatively low numbers of interested students meant there would only be one classroom per grade level, Ybarra said, so teachers would have to teach either multiple subjects or one subject to multiple grade levels and have the Texas teaching credentials to do that.
“That became problematic in matching the certifications with the student interest,” Ybarra said. “There was a mismatch, and so there wasn’t enough to support opening it right now.”
It was further complicated, she said, by the number of families who, though interested, wanted to re-evaluate their decision at the end of the semester.
“That unknown meant we didn’t know if we’d have enough kids to even have a classroom in the spring semester, but we’d have to hire a teacher for the duration of the school year,” she said.
Moving forward, she said, the district will follow the same method of having students fill out a form or survey showing their interest. Each one will be asked to commit to attending the BISD Virtual Academy for the full school year.
Then, she said, they can hire teachers based on those needs. Pushing the start of the virtual school until next year also will give current Bryan teachers the opportunity to teach in a virtual setting, she said. The statute passed by the Texas Legislature allowing for virtual schools does not allow for teachers to teach in-person and virtually simultaneously.
“Unfortunately, as much as we really wanted to open a virtual academy this fall, the statute just came too late where we could really put one up that was of quality and have enough staff to serve the student interest,” she told the board Monday.
Looking ahead, Ybarra said, the district also might revisit its targeted grade levels. When the district first was discussing the BISD Virtual Academy in the spring and summer, the focus was on secondary students. However, the targeted grade levels shifted to elementary grades last month due to increased interest from parents of elementary students.
If the virtual school is established, it could become an educational service provider to surrounding districts that enter into a contract with Bryan schools. The students would remain enrolled in their home district and eligible for UIL activities through their home district, but they would receive virtual instruction through the BISD Virtual Academy. The home district would continue receiving attendance money for the student, and pay the Bryan school district a set fee or tuition per student for the service.
“I’m proud of the district’s commitment to continue looking for opportunities for students and for families and trying to move forward with it,” Ybarra said. “While we weren’t able to find enough staff to match the certification that the students need, I’m proud of the district for seeking the possibility to be able to provide it and certainly we’ll keep looking after it.”
Also during the workshop, the school board received an update from Paul Buckner, energy and construction project manager for the district on the bond projects that were funded by the $175 million bond voters approved in November 2020.
The largest project of the bond is the third intermediate school, which is slated to be complete in time for the 2023-2024 school year.
“That project is progressing fairly well,” Buckner said. “We’re getting all of our permits in line and dirt has been moving quite substantially.”
The project is currently under budget by $182,140 with a budgeted cost of $45,917,659, and a contract for $45,735,519.
The next-largest project is the new transportation and maintenance facility, which will be moved to a temporary facility until its new location can be built on land purchased by the school district from Blinn College. The project does not have an estimated completion date, but has a budget of $25.5 million
The roofs at Crockett and Jones Elementary Schools are being replaced — and are nearly complete — but the project came in nearly $600,000 over budget due to asbestos found at Jones after the initial budgets were set.
The new fence around Merrill Green Stadium is expected to be completed this month at a cost of $571,500, which is $28,500 under budget.