The Bulloch County Schools have two administrators with experience as principals assigned to direct the at-home virtual learning option in the 2021-2022 term. They will host an open house for parents July 29, the same evening as the schools’ open-house events.
As of Monday morning, just 449 students at all grade levels were registered for the virtual program, down from more than 4,700 students for whom families chose the virtual option one year ago. But registration remains open to other families, through a link at www.bulloch.k12.ga.us/virtual for the school year beginning Aug. 2.
This year’s strategy for teaching and learning online is also far different than the plan that emerged in summer 2020 in a rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year we’re going to be doing more with our teachers, our Bulloch County teachers actually doing the instruction,” said Pam Goodman, the school district’s virtual program administrator for kindergarten through fifth grade.
Schools PLP, the interactive online platform that was used last school year for students in elementary grades learning on self-paced family schedules, will not be used this year. Edgenuity, the platform that was last year’s main virtual lesson source at the middle and high school levels, has been kept, but only as a resource for teachers and students.
“I think the major difference between this year and last year is that we’ll be doing synchronous learning, which means they’ll be teaching and learning daily, meeting at certain class times,” said Katie Johnson, now the virtual program administrator for sixth through 12th grades.
Last school year local “virtual” teachers were expected to provide guidance, pacing and supplementary activities for students working through lessons on the interactive platforms. But this year, the local teachers will teach the classes themselves using, for the most part, the Google software suite and the services of a company named D2L.
Originally called “Desire2Learn,” this online provider’s learning management system has been adopted by the Bulloch County Schools’ as their main virtual platform for kindergarten through 12th grade.
So far, 45 teachers are expected to be teaching virtual classes first semester. Goodman and Johnson, in a role similar to that of principals, will lead the effort and work with them.
Goodman has 33 years experience as an educator, including leading more than one Bulloch County school as a principal over the past dozen years, the last two years at Julia P. Bryant Elementary School.
Johnson, now in her 15th or 16th year as an educator, was a virtual option coordinator through last school year, assigned to coordinate the K-8 efforts second semester. Before that she taught at JPB Elementary for three years and was a principal and assistant principal at elementary and middle schools in Emanuel and Effingham counties.
These administrators will be based at their homes but have offices at the William James Educational Complex. Virtual program teachers will also be able to teach from home but will have work spaces available in the complex.
“We’ll have an area here where the teachers can come if they want to record their lessons here and for them to have a home area, and then also if parents want to meet with us we can either meet with them virtually or we can meet with them here at the county office,” Goodman said.
Who chooses virtual?
The 449 students enrolled in the virtual program as of Monday included 113 in the K-5 elementary grades; 83 in the 6-8 middle grades and 253 from the high schools, grades 9-12.
Among parents Goodman has talked to, those choosing the virtual program represent a combination of two different groups, she said. Protecting students or family members from COVID-19 remains the decisive concern only for some of those parents.
“We have a number of families that still are, number-one, not comfortable because of health conditions with their students returning to school face-to-face, with the (COVID-19) variants and everything else, and then for some students it really has provided a different learning environment that has allowed them to really thrive,” she said.
Open house event
The open house for the virtual program will be held Thursday, July 29, 4-7 p.m. in the cafeteria of the William James Educational Complex, 150 Williams Road, Statesboro. Not to be confused with the current William James Middle School, the educational complex is where the school system’s central offices and Transitions Learning Center are located.
Open house attendees can come in through the entrance marked with the “E” on the east side of the building under the portico.
During this event, virtual program parents can pick up technological devices, meet their children’s teachers and ask questions.
The administrators and teachers will also offer parent training on the D2L platform so parents will know how to log onto the site, access its features and work with their students.
“All of that is going to be offered here in different sessions,” Goodman said. “We do have some parents who also have face-to-face students, so we’re going to work with them to make sure they can attend the face-to-face open house and then still come here and meet with their teachers and also have some training and pick up their devices, so it’s a one-stop shop.”
Devices available include Jetpacks to provide wireless internet access, for any students qualifying as not having reliable internet access, and school district-issued Chromebooks.
Parents will also receive a virtual program handbook, spelling out expectations such as the now required meeting times for synchronous classes.
For face-to-face students, all 15 individual schools will hold open houses also on July 29, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for elementary schools; 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for middle and high schools.