Berryville board delays virtual academy

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Plans for the Berryville School District’s new virtual academy have been put on hold.

The district board voted last week not to offer the program during the 2021-2022 school year, a decision that superintendent Owen Powell said was made in the interest of feasibility.

“We opened that up for applications for about a month and we ended up having right at about 50 students that applied for it,” Powell said. “After going through those 50 applicants, and narrowing it down to the students that really should be in virtual school, we were down in the 30s. To make virtual academy work, we were looking at having to pull three teachers out of the classroom to run that virtual academy. It’s really just not feasible to do that for about 30 students.”

Owen Powell

The Berryville board began researching the possibility of such a program in March and approved an initial plan in April that included dedicated instructors and even space on campus for those times when students must be physically present.

The district’s plan was approved by the state shortly thereafter.

Powell said he was surprised at the small number of applicants.

“We didn’t have near as many applicants for it as I thought we would,” Powell said. “I really thought we’d have quite a few. I was expecting close to a hundred applicants. Not all the applicants get accepted into that program, but still, I thought there would be a lot more interest in it and there really wasn’t.”

Powell speculated that the small number of applications might have been influenced by the desire of many parents to get their children back in school — and the students wanting the same — rather than working at home, especially after the past year.

“ I think that has to play a part in it,” Powell said. “I think kids and parents want to be back at school.”

Powell said he hopes the district will be able to revisit the virtual academy later on.

“We did a lot of work on that and I hate to see it not happen, but it’s just not feasible right now,” Powell said. “Moving forward, we know we may look at it again for the next school year and see if it’s something we need to do, but for this school year, it’s really just not feasible.”

The board also voted to give final approval to the purchase of basic school supplies for all students, something the district has been able to do for the past three years.

“Back in the day before we bought them, we would send out a supplies list and parents had to go and buy pencils and stuff for their students, for their child,” Powell said. “We’ve taken that on as a district and we purchase all the school supplies for them. We’re very happy that we can do that for our families.”

Powell said the purchases will cost the district approximately $100,000, an expense offset by federal funds received by the district.

“It’s a pretty big expense,” Powell said.

In other business, the board voted to approve a number of fundraisers, including a proposal by Shaanti O’Dell to sell pastries and cookie dough, another from Melissa Rains to sell sheets and pillows and one from Cassie Staats for the sale of athletic program ads and T-shirts, along with operating the Bobcat Stadium Store, a Kiddie Cheer Camp and a bagged lunch drive-thru. In addition, the board approved a request from band director Doug Blevins to operate the concession stand during the volleyball and basketball seasons.

Another request from Blevins — this time regarding out-of-state travel — was also approved. According to Powell, the band is expected to perform at Disney World in Florida in the spring.

“I think that’s right around spring break time or maybe the week before spring break,” Powell said. “They’re going to have to do a lot of fundraising for that, because that won’t be a cheap trip.”

In other business, the board accepted the resignation of Whitney Johnson from the cafeteria staff, and voted to approve the hiring of Juliana Regalado and Emily Kesler Minton as special education paraprofessionals and Abigail Boaz-Brown as an intermediate teacher, and approved the transfers of Ashley Turpen from K-2 special education paraprofessional to intermediate special education paraprofessional and Hunter Rivett from high school ALE to high school English and history.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 23, at the district administration board room.

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