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Mary Stroka, NLJ Reporter

District explores partnering with virtual academy

Weston County School District No. 1 is “feeling pretty positive” about the possibility of a new virtual education partnership, Curriculum Director Sonya Tysdal said in a presentation at the May 29 school board meeting.

Families and students who are interested could choose to enroll in a few classes or all their classes through the Cowboy State Virtual Academy, while remaining a district student, she said at the meeting. Tysdal said she and Newcastle High School Principal Bryce Hoffman met with a representative of the academy about a week earlier.

Tysdal said she believes that the academy’s philosophy meshes with that of the district and that the academy would provide more opportunities and more support for the district’s students and families.

Motivation for online education

Sometimes district students are forced to choose between two classes that they would like to take because the classes are at the same time, but they may be able to take both classes by taking one of them virtually, Tysdal reasoned.

Superintendent Brad LaCroix said in a phone interview on May 30 that the district could also add programming through the academy. For instance, if a student wants to attend college at the Air Force Academy but first needs a second foreign language, he or she could fulfill that requirement through the academy, according to LaCroix, who said the district currently offers only Spanish. A student might also be able to take the same class that the district offers but take it from a different teacher, LaCroix said.

The academy has its own teachers who can partner with the district’s teachers, Tysdal said at the meeting, and LaCroix also noted that the virtual teachers must
hold Wyoming teacher certification.

Partnering with the academy may also benefit the district overall, LaCroix told the News Letter Journal, because the district could use the academy’s services to fill in for teacher vacancies. For example, a couple of years ago the district didn’t have a math teacher for a short time, but district students could learn math from a teacher through the virtual system while the district searches for a math teacher to teach in person through a partnership with the Virtual Academy.

“It’s sort of preparing us for the ‘what ifs,’” he said.

LaCroix said at the meeting that while he personally believes it would be difficult to learn online, he understands that online education is becoming very popular.

“We know in today’s society, whether it be student anxiety, student-parent safety, work schedules, that the virtual opportunities are really a demand that we are seeing more and more of, similar to the home-school stuff,” LaCroix later told the News Letter Journal.

Many young people prefer learning that is more privatized, he added.

“Society changes and situations change,” LaCroix said.

How it would work

Students who want to engage in online learning as a member of the school district would remain district students, graduate from the school district and complete the same requirements and accountability testing as fellow district students, according to LaCroix. The students must also have documentation that they are in classes and are successful in those classes.

The district would be responsible for fulfilling the needs of students who qualify for special education services and service time and ensuring that those students fulfill all the district’s testing requirements, Tysdal said at the meeting.

School Shorts: Notes from the May 29 WCSD#1 meeting

• The board approved the second reading of the middle school and high school coaches’ handbooks. The board also approved the 2024-25 high school and middle school student handbooks. Changes for high school students’ handbooks include that their tardy count will start over every quarter, instead of every semester, like the middle school policy. Board Chair Dana Mann-Tavegia said she has heard that the Wyoming Department of Education will have an AI policy for school districts, but the district has not yet received it.

• The board approved guidelines in accordance with the Parental Rights in Education legislation, House Bill 92 and Senate File 9, that state legislators passed into law earlier this year. The laws will take effect on July 1.

• The board approved spending $76,915.35 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds for Newline refresh boards. District Technology Director Beau Gregory said that funding covers 25 up-and-down mounts for walls for the high school and elementary school, making it easier for students to see displays, and there will be mobile boards for third and fourth grades.

• Curriculum Director Sonya Tysdal said the district is looking into how to become certified to teach alternative, basic courses, based on students’ needs, at the high school level. In the past, the high school offered foundational classes to individual students who needed them, but currently nobody at the school is licensed or certified to teach in that capacity, she said.

• The board approved the hiring of Erika Pehringer to teach high school English and Adam Ertman to be the director of maintenance. Ashley Diaz will be the school nurse, pending her successfully passing her board exams in the next few weeks, LaCroix said.

• Gregory said that he received the technology audit that the district underwent four years ago. While the district has already addressed most of the issues that the audit identified, the board will review some policies at its next meeting that the auditors recommended and, pending lawyers’ review, a service lease agreement for third parties to help protect the district from data breaches. Those policies will address data retention, AI and escalation of rights to ensure compliance with auditors’ findings.

• Business manager Angela Holliday said that she learned through the technology audit that with findings for the full-time equivalent for staff and ADM for students, the district “is looking at a $27,000 and some change fine” from the 2020-21 school year. Holliday said she and technology-data coordinator Marron Gonzales will be working together to respond to the audit with what the district has done to correct that. Mann-Tavegia said that once that is complete, that information will be shared.

• Newcastle High School Principal Bryce Hoffman said he submitted the district’s Perkins grant funding application to the Wyoming Department of Education. The district uses this funding to support its career and technical education programs, and most of the funding supports personnel. Teachers can use the funding to modernize their programs, he said.

• The board approved the district’s request to pay $3,900 in Wyoming High School Activities Association enrollment dues and $2,464 in catastrophic insurance. Trustee Dana Gordon asked why the cost for soccer is $635, compared with football’s cost of $60. Mann-Tavegia said she will try to find out.

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