Hawkins County hoping to attract home-schooled to online academy

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Board of Education is hoping to entice some of its home-school students into the school system with a new Virtual Academy that would allow students to continue learning at home at their own pace using an online state curriculum.

Aside from providing parents and children with additional instructional resources, the program allows those students to participate in electives such as band, choir, CTE (Career Technical/Education) vocational programs, NJROTC and dual enrollment programs toward college credit.

And because that student would officially be enrolled in the county school system, their attendance would be counted toward state BEP funding that funds Hawkins County Schools approximately $7,500 per student per year.

Implementation of the program is awaiting final approval of the 2019-20 budget by the Hawkins County Commission.

There are some new expenditures associated with the Virtual Academy, including the creation of an additional Central Office supervisor position to oversee the program at a cost of about $60,000 plus benefits.

Director of Schools Matt Hixson said he envisions having current high school supervisor Wes Smith take over the Virtual Academy and the CTE programs.

There are also some instructional material costs of $135 to $145 per course that the school system would pay.

Hixson said he and his staff will meet with the Niswonger Foundation later this month to see if it can help offset some of the Virtual Academy expenses for the county.

The program is free to students and parents, and Hixson told the Times News on Monday the program would pay for itself by attracting only a handful of new students.

The Times News sat down with Hixson to discuss the Virtual Academy program and its benefits to students who will enroll and their parents.

How does this new program work?

“Kids who are enrolled in that academy, even though they're still doing home school, are using approved curriculum online. Parents can work with them at home, and then they would have access to our teachers during the week if need be for tutoring or resources.

Where does the online material come from?

“It's a Tennessee state approved curriculum, like Florida Online, for example. That's the online curriculum that a lot of people use. That would count as enrollment, so we would be able to assist our parents who may be struggling with teaching their child certain subjects, especially as they get older into those higher level math and sciences.”

What about students who don’t have access to Internet?

“We would provide a mobile hot spot or similar device if needed.”

What advantages does the Virtual Academy give home-school students?

They would be able so sign up for any electives within our schools because they'd be our students. If they wanted to take a band class and show up for a couple of periods at Cherokee or Volunteer, if they're enrolled in the Virtual Academy they can do so. Tennessee already allows home-school students to play sports, but they aren't allowed to participate in electives such as band or CTE classes because they aren't students and can't be on campus during the school day. This would open the door to any school day activity, as well as out of school activities.”

Can Virtual students joint the NJROTC?

“I don’t see why not, as long as they can meet the class and activity attendance requirements.”

Will the Virtual Academy be available in the 2019-20 school year?

“Our plan is to start the pilot this fall. I'm 100 percent sure we're going to offer this program. I'm about 98 percent sure it will be available this fall. As soon as the budget is approved, the program will be advertised and they will start accepting applications.”

How many new students can this bring into the Hawkins County School System?

“We've got about 180 students who we think are independent home-school students who are either going through the state or private home school. I think (the number of Virtual Academy students) depends on how we market it and the resources that we make available to them. I think (they'll be interested) once they know that they can take electives, receive tutoring or resources through our current teaching staff. Those things will be a benefit to them. They can also participate in any of our dual enrollment CTE coursework.”