Berryville school board researching virtual academy

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Students in the Berryville School District might soon have a choice about how they attend class.

During the district board’s meeting on March 15, members heard a report regarding the establishment of a dedicated virtual academy, which would allow students to attend classes online on a regular basis.

“We’re doing some research there,” said superintendent Owen Powell. “The board didn’t approve anything [at the meeting]. It was just informational and conversation, but we are looking at having that next year.”

Owen Powell

The format would be quite different than traditional classroom learning — or even the virtual learning enacted this school year to account for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It would look a whole lot different from what we’re doing now,” Powell said. “We would actually designate teachers to be in the virtual academy to work with students. Those teachers would just be working with virtual students only. They wouldn’t be teaching in the classroom. It would be a true application process and the students would have to be accepted into that academy and we also would cap the numbers on it.”

For example, he said, the number of students in the lower grade levels — specifically kindergarten through second grade — would likely be limited to 20 students, while the elementary grades might see 25.

Powell said that, while in-person learning is often considered the best choice for many students, after seeing how many students switched to virtual learning this year, there might be a call for it.

“I really think there’s no question that face-to-face instruction is the best for teaching and learning,” Powell said. “But I also feel like as many students as we’ve had here at Berryville that went virtual, I feel like we’re going to have some students that want to continue to do that. With just the way things are now, if you don’t offer some kind of a virtual option, then those students can choose to go to another school that is offering virtual school. That’s kind of our thought process behind that, is that we feel like we’ll lose quite a few students to another school that is offering virtual classes. That’s one of the reasons.”

In addition, he said, some students might perform just as well in an online setting.

“That’s exactly correct,” Powell said. “There are some students that can do well in virtual school and we just want to offer it to those people.”

Powell said the matter will be revisited at the board’s April meeting.

The board also heard an update on the Connect 4 program from director James Knight. The career and technical education program is in its third year of offering junior and senior students from the Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest school districts the opportunity to pursue a technical education during the school day.

“We’re really proud of that program and and what’s going on over there,” Powell said. “They’re doing a great job and we’re really pleased with the direction of the program.”

The C4 program is housed in the Carroll County Career Center, formerly the Berryville Readiness Center, and offers instruction in a number of different disciplines with an eye toward industrial maintenance, machining, welding, robotics and electrical work, providing students with a cross-curricular background in different trades.

In January, it was reported that the program was serving 55 students — 28 from Green Forest, 21 from Berryville and six from Eureka Springs — with 16 participating in paid apprenticeship programs at local businesses.

Powell said providing students with options for the future is a big part of the program’s purpose.

“College isn’t for everybody,” Powell said. “There’s no doubt, there’s no question about that. And that C4 program, it really is a great opportunity for our kids.”

In other business, the board approved a number of requests, including one to establish a debate team for students in grades 8-12, a high school service day fundraiser and one from Ben Winn regarding a trip to New York for the high school choir.

“That’s just fantastic, a real big honor for them,” Powell said. “Ben Winn is doing a fantastic job for our choir program. This year has been tough on them because they haven’t really had much of a chance to perform because of COVID, but he’s doing a really good job with them and we’re really proud of our kids. That’s a real big honor to get to go to New York and perform.”

The board also accepted a pair of resignations — from special education paraprofessional Joanna McWilliam and high school special education teacher Cody Sanders — and approved all certified contract renewals for the next school year.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, April 19, at the district administration building.

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