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Bathwater, No Baby

I've spent portions of this week working to update our school's website at http://vlearn.mnps.org to reflect the realities surrounding the start up of Spring 2013's semester. I'm most proud of the faculty page at http://www.vlearn.mnps.org/Page83425.aspx, which displays the smiling faces of the 25 adjunct teachers who will facilitate the progress of our (nearly 100 now) full-time online students and our part-timers in the 23 MNPS high schools we serve, along with the handful of beta program middle schools where we have Middle Schoolers taking high school courses for advanced high school credit. These dedicated human beings are mostly full-time MNPS teachers, with a few retired ones and a few out of county teachers. Without exception, they believe in the future of online learning enough to take on more work in their work day in order to pioneer it.

This past week, it came to my attention that there is a small group of legislators who are mounting an initiative to (once again) ban virtual schools in our fair State. This seems to be a backlash from the documented failures of commercial providers' efforts in Tennessee, as noted in the following Google search results for "Tennessee Virtual School:"
  1. For-profit virtual school drawing ire of TN lawmakers - WSMV ...

    www.wsmv.com/.../for-profit-virtual-school-drawing-ire-of-tn...Share
    Sep 3, 2012 – Virtual schools are a relatively new, but a growing option, for education across Tennessee. Metro Schools started a public virtual school in 2010 ...
  2. PolitiFact Tennessee | Chattanooga senator slaps virtual school ...

    www.politifact.com/tennessee/.../chattanooga-senator-slaps-virt...
    Oct 7, 2012 – More recently, Berke has led the charge against the state law allowing for "virtual schools" to set up shop in Tennessee counties. As the ...
  3. TN virtual school draws criticism | wbir.com

    www.wbir.com/news/article/.../TN-virtual-school-draws-criticis...
    TN virtual school draws criticism. 10:26 AM, Sep 10, 2012 | comments. Tennessee Virtual Academy student Jalea Slater, 8, left, takes a spelling test from her ...


  4. Tennessee senator calls for inquiry of virtual school citing low test ...

    www.commercialappeal.com/.../tennessee-senator-calls-for-inq...
    Aug 31, 2012 – A Chattanooga senator is pressing for an inquiry into the for-profit Tennessee Virtual Academy after seeing test scores he describes as 'dismal..."
    While these news and blog posts seem to point to a failure of online learning in our state, I want to go on record to suggest that Senator Berke and others would be doing a total disservice to the future of education in Tennessee to revert to the past prior to 2010, when it was against the law to educate students online. At MNPS Virtual School, the first official virtual Public School in our State, we have been tirelessly working since 2009 to craft sets of policies, processes, and courses that not only work for students, but that provide in many cases more rigorous, more challenging, and more academically engaging educational experiences for students than those available in bricks and mortar classrooms, be they public or private or in homeschool situations. 
    Our Principal, Dr. James Witty, comes to us from an accomplished career dedicated to Alternative Education.  As stated on our school's "Administration and Staff" page, Dr. Witty ",,,brings a wealth of experience and expertise in nontraditional educational methods. He most recently managed more than 60 educational reform initiatives for Metro Schools as the Race to the Top Grant Manager for MNPS. Previously, he served as the Director of the Center for Dropout Prevention, creating and launching a resource center for the Tennessee Department of Education. Dr. Witty also has expertise in out-of-school learning, previously serving as a Director for Extended Learning for the Murfreesboro City School District."
    At ISTE 2009 in Denver, Colorado, Dr. Kecia Ray, MNPS Executive Director for Instructional Technology and now incoming ISTE President, approached my dear wife Lee Ann on the veranda of her sister's historic Denver home during a party, looked her in the eye and told her "I'm going to steal your husband." She clarified that she intended to "steal" me away from my 14 year career at University School of Nashville to help her make her vision for online learning work for our school district's 80,000+ students. Along with Coordinator Barbara Thoeming, I began this labor of love within the month. We nurtured options along as a program with a small dedicated team until laws changed, we became a School, and Barbara moved along elsewhere in her career, making room for Dr. Witty to come on board, similarly walking away from his own successful and contributive career to help turn vision into reality.

    As of yesterday, we are serving right at 700 individual class "seats" to our students with a staff of 5 full-time professionals and 25 Adjunct Teachers. We offer a new paradigm of accountability with our "Performance = Attendance" policies. We have in place a communication system of "Performance Concern" which supports students in a timely and effective manner through communication with parents, school counselors, and students. We underscore every module in every online course with a "Discussion Based Assessment" graded in accordance with a rubric made available to students even before they sign in to their course for the first time. This DBA is simply a structured (telephone or Skype call) conversation between instructor and student about the learning they have just mastered. We offer 24/7 online tutoring to many of our students via Grade Results. Our teachers deliver regular tutoring opportunities in our Thomas W. Hatfield Student Success Center up until 5 pm after school on a regular basis. We provide in-person orientations for teachers, students, and parents, supported by separate 50+ page handbooks for Full-Time and Part-Time students. We are continually evolving in the spirit of student support and accountability. We rock.
    Thomas W. Hatfield Student Success Center at MNPS Virtu@l School
    Come see us, Senator Berke: We are open for the business of learning and teaching. Please don't throw out our baby with your bathwater.

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