As local school districts plan for the coming year, Nash County Public Schools is rolling out its new virtual academy to meet the needs of families who prefer to keep their students out of the classroom, but Edgecombe County will not offer a virtual academy at all.
One of the main reasons for the difference in approach is the size, resources and needs of each district.
Nash County Public Schools had an average daily membership of 14,832 students during the 2019-20 school year while the average daily membership at Edgecombe County Public Schools for that year was 5,836, according to information from the state Department of Public Instruction website.
Both school districts have lost a considerable number of students since the pandemic began, but those figures are not available on the state website.
Edgecombe County Public Schools Superintendent Valerie Bridges said last week at a meeting of the Edgecombe County Board of Education that surveys of the district have not indicated sufficient interest in a virtual academy for the district.
“Staff members had two Zoom meetings with families who expressed interested in the virtual academy option to help determine their commitment level. Out of the 18 parents who attended the sessions, 16 indicated that they were still interested while two shared that they were no longer interested,” Bridges told school board members.
In June, Bridges had reported that just 99 students had expressed interest in the virtual academy, though the school would need at least 100 students before the option could be eligible for state funding.
Bridges said that the new numbers were even lower. Only 25 elementary students, 35 middle-school students and 34 high-school students were still on the list, for a total of 94 students from the entire district.
“If we had a virtual academy, we would have to hire a principal, teaching staff, a testing coordinator, a counselor and a data manager for the school,” Bridges told school board members. “I am not sure when we look at this if this is something that says that our community is in need of this option at a high rate.”
School board members agreed.
“To me, the numbers just don’t verify the need for this,” school board member William Ellis said.
Bridges said that she and her staff agree.
“We only have interest expressed from 94 students, and since only 18 parents attended the Zoom meetings, we don’t even know if we have those 94,” Bridges said. “I just don’t know if (it) makes sense and if the community really thinks there is a need.”
The virtual academy is off the table for the coming school year in Edgecombe County. However, Bridges said her staff intends to take time at their Summer Leadership meeting this week to explore other learning options for students who prefer to stay home.
During a retreat meeting Monday of the Nash County Board of Education, school staff told members of the school board that the new Nash Everywhere Digital Academy, or NEDA, is almost ready for the school year to begin. The school district has offered virtual academy options in the past, but NEDA is designed to reach students at almost all levels of instruction and has been redesigned based on lessons learned about virtual teaching during the pandemic.
As of May 24, 456 students in Nash County Public Schools had applied to request enrollment in NEDA for the coming year, said Danny Plyler, director of instructional technology and virtual learning for the school district. As of Monday, 341 students had been approved for admittance into NEDA.
The criteria for acceptance were based on whether students seemed likely to succeed in that format, Plyler said. Students need to have a minimum of 70 percent attendance rate in past virtual settings, have passed at least three core classes and have a recommendation from their principals to be accepted.
The school district is setting up an appeals process for next week for students and their parents who would like to be reconsidered for enrollment, Plyler said.
Currently, 134 elementary students, 92 middle school students and 107 high school students have been selected for the inaugural year of the Nash Everywhere Digital Academy.