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Virtual school could fund Carroll academy

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The success of Carroll schools' online academy could help pay for a governor's school for science, technology, engineering and math.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — As much as half of the revenue from Carroll schools’ virtual academy could go toward funding the new STEM academy, the county supervisors learned from the schools’ superintendent Sept. 12.
The supervisors held a public hearing on the appropriation of nearly $1.9 million to the schools budget.
No citizen spoke, but the supervisors and Schools’ Superintendent Greg Smith had a long discussion about the Virginia Virtual Academy that hosts online students from across the state and the planned regional program focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), called Blue Ridge Crossroads Governor’s Academy for Technical Education.
“In connection with the virtual academy program, the revenue which would be generated from that... probably about 50 percent would be going toward the STEM program,” Smith said in his remarks.
The revenues from the virtual school come from state basic aid, based on the number of students in the programs and fees to participate.
About $113,000 of the virtual academy revenue will stay with the schools and the remainder will go its virtual school partner K12. An additional $150,000 comes from out-of-district fees of $500 per student. That totals $263,000 that the school system can use.
The Virginia Virtual Academy continues to be the pilot program for online learning in the state, though others have cropped up in other localities, the superintendent said. Youth from 38 different localities participate in Carroll’s program.
Carroll educators started the online school three years ago in an attempt to reach homeschool students in the county, Smith said. The program has reached some of those.
Educators have capped the program at 350 students. “We would certainly sign up many, many more,” Smith said. “There are approximately 26,000 homeschool students in Virginia.”
In many ways, Carroll schools have driven the process of creating online learning opportunities. Smith said he was recently appointed by the governor to a board tasked with coming up with recommendations for state funding of virtual schools.
Other states have virtual learning programs, and Virginia is slowly trying to figure out how to make online classrooms work here.
Smith hoped the online learning program will continue to improve and that Carroll can continue in it.
“If it is a lucrative proposition for this county and for the school system, we will continue to really do this,” he said.
Supervisor Wes Hurst noted that he works in an adjacent county, and he’s heard people there talking about Carroll’s school programs.
How did the schools determine the enrollment cap, county officials wanted to know.
Educators wanted to keep the online student population around 10 percent of the children in the brick and mortar schools, Smith answered. The schools have been asked to increase their cap many times.
If the number of virtual students gets too high, then the county might have to contribute money. That’s not something that Smith wants to do.
“I know I couldn’t come to this board — I would not do that — and say, ‘We need an additional local increase for students outside of Carroll County,’” the superintendent said.
Hurst also took Smith’s appearance as an opportunity to ask about the county schools’ vocational training programs. The supervisor wondered if educators ever foresee splitting the vocational programs off into their own school.
The vocational programs are at capacity right now, Smith said. “We are turning students away right now in pretty large numbers, too,” Smith said. “We can expand any one of our programs quickly,” especially technology-related programs.
Educators continue recruiting students to participate in the STEM program, and quite a few have expressed interest, Smith said. “It is really a positive thing seeing 50 students coming forward, saying, ‘I want this challenge.’”
There are going to be some exciting programs in the future and students will find a special learning climate with special projects to do, the superintendent said.
What’s really important about the STEM academy is that it will give students another option to successfully find a career in the future.
Carroll educators want every single student in the schools to be successful in the workplace. Smith noted that unskilled labor jobs have been disappearing over the years and so are options for employment for unskilled workers.
“You have to be trained to work in the workplace now,” the superintendent said.
More training for the future workforce is a good focus, Hurst indicated. “I just think for us in our area... it’s probably serving a large part of our citizens better, for their children.”
Supervisor David Hutchins asked if Carroll will partner with others on the STEM school.
The stem academy is a partnership with the school divisions in Galax and Grayson, as well as business and industry and institutions of higher learning. Smith noted that other school systems nearby are also showing an interest in participating in STEM.
After the public hearing, Hutchins made a motion to approve the appropriation.
All supervisors voted yes.