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Engage - Hoover City Virtual School

20-May-2015 (HCS) - The expansion of Hoover City Schools’ commitment to the virtual classroom continues this fall with Engage: Hoover City Virtual School.

The six-course, two-teacher program will augment existing virtual experiences currently available to HCS students.  The program’s inception coincides with new legislation requiring Alabama school systems to expand virtual classrooms (SB72).

“The timing is spot-on.  The demand and the situational context is rising at the same time as our capacity to be able to do this in a quality way,” Dr. Ron Dodson, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, said.

Hoover City Schools has provided virtual courses for students in some capacity for approximately ten years. In the last three years, both high schools have offered local virtual or blended courses to students. Courses have ranged from credit advancement to credit recovery to general courses.  Chris Bell (Spain Park High School) and Barcley Gerndt (Hoover High School) will serve as the Engage teachers.  Bell and Gerndt will provide office hours for students on both campuses. The teachers were chosen for their background in online instruction, dedication to students and an innovative spirit.

“Over the last six months there has been a goal to move toward district-wide virtual courses. The goal was to find pockets of innovation and utilize those resources to benefit all Hoover students, rather than students at each high school,” Dr. Dodson said

U.S. History 11, Government, Economics, English 11, English 12 and ACT Prep will all be offered through Engage: Hoover City Virtual School.  In addition, virtual courses will continue to be offered through ACCESS, Dual Enrollment, Early College and various courses at each high school.  

Engage: Hoover City Virtual School complements Hoover City Schools' existing Engaged Learning Initiative (E.L.I.), the district’s 1:1 rollout.  For Chief Technology Officer Mr. Bryan Phillips, the two programs prove a natural fit.

“The idea of E.L.I. was to give our students access to learning 24/7 - so a virtual classroom is exactly where we see this going in the future. Our infrastructure and network are ready for this.  If I was a student in one of our high schools I would be ecstatic to be able to get some or all of my classwork done in a virtual setting,” Phillips said.

HCS curriculum leaders acknowledge that virtual learning will not replace “brick and mortar schools” altogether, nor will it solve capacity issues. Despite popular beliefs, most students like coming to school for the social benefits, school leaders say.

“One of the challenges virtual teachers face is engaging students in an environment void of body language and traditional student-teacher relationships,” HCS Technology Integration Coordinator, Mrs. Kelli Lane, said. “Providing professional development in the best practices of online instruction is a key element in the development of the virtual school.”

To that end, virtual teachers will participate in several learning opportunities this summer targeting best practices. Additionally, teachers will develop content and structures for the online classroom.

Dr. Dodson has seen the good and the bad when it comes to virtual learning. Some early adopters of the virtual experience discovered they unknowingly placed unreasonable workloads on the virtual students. Instructors themselves had difficulty balancing workloads necessary to execute digital learning. Those challenges have been addressed, Dodson says, and HCS stands ready to provide a first-class, virtual experience.

“This certainly will light a fire under people to start moving," Dr. Dodson said.  "We have been moving in this direction for quite a while. We have enough people that know how to do this to make it successful.”

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