Berryville school board approves virtual academy

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Students in the Berryville School District may soon have a choice in how they wish to attend classes.

During its meeting on April 20, the Berryville school board voted to approve a plan to establish a virtual academy that would let students attend classes remotely, taught by dedicated virtual teachers.

Owen Powell

“The next step of that is to submit [the plan] to the state now that it’s been board-approved,” said superintendent Owen Powell. “We have to submit that to the department of Education by May 1, and then we’ll find out whether or not they approve it. If they do, then we’ll move forward with the virtual academy for next year.”

Last month, the board was presented with a report outlining the proposed academy, which would be quite different than traditional classroom learning — or even the virtual learning enacted this school year to account for the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Powell, the district would designate teachers to work exclusively with virtual students, who would have to apply for the academy. The academy would be limited to a certain number of students, especially in the lower grades.

Powell said the plan includes provisions to select virtual teachers from existing staff as students apply for the academy.

“That should make it where we can pull teachers from the classroom to be virtual teachers for these students,” Powell said. “We’ll take a teacher from K-5 that will just see virtual students for the elementary and intermediate school, and we’ll do the same for the middle school and then we’ll do the same for the high school.”

The virtual academy would also have a physical home, Powell said. Once approved, it would be located in the district’s old high school art building.

“That building would actually be the virtual academy place, where those virtual teachers would be housed,” Powell said. “If the students need to come on the campus, they would go to the virtual school, which would be the old high school art building.”

Making use of the art building — which will need some renovation, Powell said — will help keep the cost of the new academy small.

“There’ll be a little bit of a cost to renovate that building, but it won’t be a huge amount,” Powell said. “We’ve got to buy a digital platform that our teachers and students will work off of. Right now, we’re researching three different platforms and we don’t have the final decision on those, but all three of them that we’re looking at are state-approved. We’re just trying to find the best one for our students and teachers.”

Powell said the plan has already been drawing interest.

“We’ve had several that have been asking principals about it and and everything,” Powell said. “Once we get it all approved, we’ll get a lot more information out to our parents and our students. We just hate to send all that information out there without it even being approved [by the state] yet.”

In other business, the board voted to approve a more than $450,000 plan to replace the HVAC in the district’s middle school building.

“We’re going to redo all the HVAC in the building,” said Powell, who indicated that the HVAC system at the middle school is approximately 20 years old. “It’s old and need to be replaced. We’re going to be able to do that with [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds], which is really nice, because we’re looking at spending about $460,000 to replace all that.”

The project was awarded to Summers Heating and Cooling, while another bid for repairs to the Middle School, Administration and Agri Buildings was awarded to Harness Roofing.

In other business, the board approved a request from teacher Delene McCoy to allow a trip out of state for gifted and talented students from the middle school and high school to visit Big Cedar/Top of the Rock, Silver Dollar City and Dogwood Canyon, as well as a request for students in the Career and Technical Education program to visit Silver Dollar City.

The board also voted unanimously to continue wearing face coverings through the end of the school year in a continuing effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson ended his statewide mask mandate on March 30, leaving the decision on whether to continue the public health policy in the hands of cities, counties, individual business owners, entertainment venues and schools.

At the same time, Hutchinson said face coverings would still be required at all state offices.

“While we are lifting the statewide mask mandate, that does not mean it ends at every venue,” Hutchinson said. “Whenever you lift a mandate and individuals can make responsible decisions as well as businesses, we just need to honor those decisions.”

Powell said the board’s decision just makes sense.

“The thinking there is, we really only have about four or five weeks of school left, and we’ve been doing it all year,” Powell said. “We just want to keep everybody safe. We have some big events coming up, like high school graduation. We would sure hate to see our seniors not be able to walk at graduation because of me either being positive with COVID or having to be quarantined.”

After meeting in an executive session, the board also accepted a number of personnel changes, including the resignations of bus driver Yvonne Kesler and special education paraprofessional Rebecca Wineinger.

New hires for the district include paraprofessional Vivian Broseus, part-time bus shop aide Harold Hardesty, and substitute bus drivers Austin Crow and J. Bryce Moorman.

Rebekah Parton was transferred from the cafeteria to paraprofessional, Kami Tresler was transferred from cafeteria to intermediate cafeteria manager.

Other resignations included federal programs and classified employee supervisor Paul Hines, elementary teacher Jennifer Kartes, middle school teacher Sarah Moore and high school teacher Sierra Sugg.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 18, at the district administration building.

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