Flexibility is important to modern students and families, and establishing a virtual school can help you provide quality curriculum while giving students a less rigid learning environment. But figuring out how to start one can be intimidating. When built using the right curriculum, virtual schools can help districts recapture lost students from competing charter schools, other virtual programs, or even home schooling. Jarret Coutee, Program Administrator at Lafayette Online Academy in Louisiana, shares how the district expanded from a blended learning program into a full-fledged virtual program that better serves all students.
WLC: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role?
Jarret: I have a degree in finance, and came from the business world originally. That background fits perfectly into my role with online schooling. With the introduction of virtual charter schools, online schooling has become extremely competitive, so our superintendent initiated the creation of a K–12 online school that would offer unique benefits to students living in Lafayette. We titled it Lafayette Online Academy, and this is our third year in operation. We’re doing extremely well, and part of our success definitely comes from our partnership with Edgenuity®. We trust Edgenuity and have confidence in the curriculum, and our students and families are very pleased with their learning experience.
WLC: How long have you been with Lafayette?
Jarret: I started with the virtual program 9 years ago. I named it Ecampus, and in 2009, we started with 25 students. Right now we have more than 2,000 students enrolled in online courses. The need [for flexible learning options] is great, so we utilize our online courses as a major asset for our students and families. This is our blended learning solution for students at our physical schools who need an online class to remain with their graduation cohort or meet college admission criteria, for example.
Then, about 3 years ago, we established a virtual school, and this year we’ve enrolled about 80 students who were not enrolled in the Lafayette district. These were students from home study or charter programs that we were able to get back into the district through Lafayette Online Academy. These students take classes 100% online, but we do offer access to a learning lab, school counselors, and teachers in every subject here on campus. They can come in to use the lab and schedule time with the teachers when needed. We know it’s the human behind great courseware that makes a positive experience for students. And we have outstanding teachers, facilitators, librarians, and counselors who really help make our program exceptional.
“Initially it was difficult, but after schools and teachers began to trust the curriculum, we saw a huge shift.”
WLC: How have you been able to get buy-in from teachers and families?
Jarret: Initially it was difficult, but after schools and teachers began to trust the curriculum, we saw a huge shift. When you trust the curriculum, your role becomes enhanced to include coach and mentor. You’re still the teacher, but you can be so much more successful with great curriculum.
Trust and support is a powerful combination. You can’t just throw things out there without supporting [them], and everything we do is studied and conservative to make sure training is in place and the implementation is right. Otherwise, it isn’t going to happen. We’re all about customer service and we see that as the most important thing. We have a great school and excellent curriculum, so we can offer our students and families the best experience.
WLC: How do you train new teachers?
Jarret: We purchase professional development through Edgenuity regularly because there’s always new features. But now we’ve been using the platform for so many years that we have our local experts pair with the Edgenuity team to create a full day of training for the district. After the initial training, we have a follow-up training 2 months later. This helps add a layer of advanced features and ensure the fidelity of our program. We also do random checks to make sure proctors are following our policies regarding opening tests, giving retakes, and grading assignments. We instill studied policies, quality, fidelity, and rigor in our online courses to make sure our students are truly learning.
WLC: Who develops policy?
Jarret: We take a collective approach to developing policy. My team has used the courseware for nearly 10 years; we write policies based on state distance education guidelines and iNACOL standards. Our policy is like a constitution, and we make amendments regularly. It’s my philosophy to introduce small changes that deliver a big impact. For example, we’ve started giving schools that use Edgenuity on their campuses more autonomy over their credit recovery programs. We’re developing local experts who can run the credit recovery programs and know our policies and implement them at the schools. This has helped make the process more efficient so students can get into courses quicker.
WLC: What kind of an impact are you seeing with your students?
Jarret: In the ’16–’17 school year, 95% of our Lafayette Online Academy students passed the standardized tests. We take test preparation seriously, and arrange for our students to receive face-to-face test remediation or assign them a Virtual Tutor course designed to prepare them for the end-of-course test. Our students do very well, and I believe it’s because Edgenuity has a similar structure as the standardized test. Technology should be in the background, so the test truly measures subject matter knowledge.
We also have our own graduation ceremony and last year we had a record 42 graduates. It makes me proud to see our students achieve their academic goals. They come to us from different backgrounds and require a level of flexibility that most schools cannot offer. That’s the beauty of using Edgenuity: we design courses around the students instead of the student having to mold themselves around the courseware.
WLC: What are some of your student requirements?
Jarret: We require students to come in for testing but we also tie it to intervention, so if a student needs help or we see that they are struggling, we can quickly intervene. My teachers and tutors are alerted to where the students are not doing well and reach out via email or phone to have them come in for help. We won’t let them take the next assessment until we’re comfortable in their knowledge of the subject matter.
WLC: It sounds like you are providing great things to the students in Lafayette. Do you have any final thoughts to add?
Jarret: Lafayette Online Academy has quickly become one of the premier online schools in our area. We are truly excited about the future and look forward to providing flexible learning options to students and families in Lafayette. We have a unique, pull-together community that has been through our share of natural disasters and adversity. Over the last 9 years, Edgenuity has stood steadfastly by our side through those tough times so our students could continue their education without interruption—that’s truly a great feeling!
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can establish your own virtual program or school to better serve students, check out Edgenuity.com.