Kyrene School District may have jumped to the head of the class in dealing with the tricky issue of reopening campuses.
Not only did Superintendent Dr. Jan Vesely last week roll out a comprehensive reopening plan, but her unveiling of the Kyrene Digital Academy – aimed at statewide student recruitment – sent shudders through some East Valley districts.
In those districts, educators privately expressed concerns over a new competitor to worry about in the ever-present quest to maintain and increase enrollment, the key component in the formula that determines the level of districts’ state funding.
Asked whether Kyrene will aggressively market the Digital Academy, spokeswoman Erin Helm told AFN:
“Anything new in Kyrene, but particularly a whole new school, will definitely have an information campaign behind it. The Kyrene Digital Academy has been developed, first and foremost, as a response to a need within our existing Kyrene community, as families are seeking educational options that do not require them to send children to school in-person.
“While that is the school’s initial purpose, it is open to any child in the State of Arizona, and will be marketed beyond Kyrene’s immediate geographic boundaries, to ensure all families have the information they need about this new school.”
Kyrene’s overall reopening plan allows students back into its 25 campuses under a wide range of restrictions meant to keep them and teachers as safe as possible from COVID-19 while also providing two kinds of distance-learning options.
It beat virtually all East Valley districts in having a comprehensive plan ready to roll for the 2020-21 school year.
Although a reopening update is on the Tempe Union Governing Board agenda for its meeting tonight, June 17, a district spokeswoman said a formal plan was not likely before the end of the month.
Chandler Unified, Mesa Public Schools and Gilbert’s two districts also are not expected to have plans in place before next month.
Kyrene Governing Board member Michelle Fahy wanted more discussion on the plan to eliminate fall break – one of several scheduling changes that include cancelling early-release Wednesdays for 2020-21.
But board members generally were enthusiastic about Kyrene’s plan.
Kyrene parents must now choose one of three options for the new school year at Kyrene.org/staystrong so that the district will know how to allocate its staff.
One option is returning to school, where social-distancing concerns will keep K-8 students in the same classroom all day and teachers will rotate in and out for core subjects and electives.
The “flex” option allows model that essentially allows students to continue distance learning at home and transition back to campuses at intervals that the district will be setting.
But it’s the Digital Academy that created excitement among board members – and trepidation for some of the district’s neighbors.
The academy will offer specially trained Kyrene teachers with a curriculum developed by the district that will mirror what kids in brick-and-mortar classes learn.
To be eligible for enrollment, families are required to have internet access, although the district will supply them with a laptop only the student can use – and only for school work.
While Kyrene may try to help in-district families who can’t afford internet service get plugged into an online service, the current requirement for enrollment is that a family have online capability.
Under no circumstances will families living outside the district be helped with internet service if they want to enroll in the Digital Academy, administrators told the board last week.
Board President Michael Myrick said the Digital Academy could dramatically increase enrollment – and, hence, state funding.
“I think what we’re proposing for this distance partner is going to be very attractive to a number of families outside of the country in school district,” Myrick said.
“I’m predicting we’re going to have – and I hope I’m right – a boom of out-of-district students but in-state residents who choose that model for all the reasons that were outlined,” he said.
Those reasons, said Pueblo Middle School Principal Dr. Kyle Ross, “will distinguish us from other options that are available in Arizona.
They include dedicated teachers who will be with students throughout the year and interacting live with them as well as a curriculum that mirrors that which is taught in classrooms and “not online content purchase from a vendor,” Ross said.
Ross noted that feedback the district received from its distance learning the last three months indicated that students didn’t have much connection with the online teachers because they weren’t the teachers they had prior to closure.
“The first aspect is that these will be Kyrene teachers,” he said, who will be “trained in the Kyrene instructional model, curriculum and the new professional development for online instruction. These teachers will be the teachers of these students.”
There also will be no difference between brick-and-mortar and online classes, he said, stressing, “What our students who are sitting on one of our campuses are learning in a given week, our online students will be learning.”
And the interaction will be robust, he said.
“Students will digitally interact with their teachers and other students and large groups, small groups and one-on-one activities – just as they would on campus using new and updated digital learning resources developed by our Kyrene staff,”
“We will be offering all of our core courses, of course, as well as the same lessons and activities for social-emotional learning that our brick-and-mortar students will receive, he continued, adding:
“In addition, we’ll be offering special areas and electives for students as well as providing services and accommodations for those students who require them – such as special education and gifted.”