Advocates Protest Tennessee Virtual Academy Closing


Hundreds of parents, students and educators took to the Tennessee state capitol earlier this week to promote the Tennessee Virtual Academy, the online public school that could face closure this summer due to low academic gains.

The closing was ordered by former state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman last July. In order to avoid closing, the school needs to significantly increase academic gains made by the end of this year. In addition, the Tennessee General Assembly will need to renew the Virtual Public Schools Act, which allows online virtual schools to operate in the state.

School administrators feel the Department of Education has acted too swiftly in their decision to close the school, arguing that a number of public schools in the state have not been closed despite their poor academic performances.

“We just want to be treated fairly. We are an improving school,” said Josh Williams, head of the online virtual academy. “Our school is one of the fastest-performing schools. We made tremendous gains since last year,” he said.

The school enrolls 1,300 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.  The school uses curriculum from K12 Inc., the for-profit company that supplies curriculum to other online schools nationwide, writes Melanie Balakit for The Tennessean.

Since opening in 2011, the school has not been able to show academic performance beyond a “level 1,” which is the lowest on the scale of 1 to 5.  To remain open, the school will need to increase their score to a level 3 or higher.  The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System is used to determine student learning gains through the comparison of student test scores on state assessment over a number of years.

Williams said the school has already initiated a number of programs set to improve upon student achievement, including more data-driven instruction, small group and individual sessions, and more communication between parents and teachers.

According to teachers and administrators at the school, a number of students already have special needs or are otherwise behind academically when they enroll at the school.

“Typically, a lot of students who come to us are at least one to two grade levels behind. And so, we’re kind of playing catch-up with them,” said Rebekah Chapman, a fifth-grade teacher at TNVA.  “Students for medical, social, behavioral reasons that just don’t thrive in a traditional public school system and they thrive in this one. The closing of the school would be detrimental to them,” Chapman said.

The school has already notified parents of the possible upcoming closure.  If it does happen, it is believed that parents will enroll their students into the public school available within their district.

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