El Dorado plans for permanent virtual option for next school year, Magnolia gathers input from parents to help decide

Arkansas News

SOUTH ARKANSAS KTVE/KARD (2/10/21) — Remote learning may continue to be an option for students in some districts across South Arkansas.

El Dorado School District Superintendent Jim Tucker is planning to extend this option to students who are currently learning virtually from home but it won’t be offered to everyone.

“I do believe that there will be an application type process. You would have had to have success in the program this year to be able to move into it next year. If you weren’t successful it doesn’t really make sense to do another year of you not being successful,” Tucker said.

The district isn’t sure yet what exactly that will look like but there is a committee that is coming up with ideas. They hope to make those plans public in the next few weeks though Tucker wants to ensure it works for both students and teachers.

Some teachers across the state have had a difficult time juggling teaching students in-person and an online.

The stress became so overwhelming that some districts across implemented blended learning days. The El Dorado School District opted to have a blended learning Friday which began in October.

The new schedule allows teachers the much needed time to develop lesson plans, videos and assessments for both online and on-site students.

It also gives students time to catch up on any work they may have missed or needed help with throughout the week. Tucker says next year the district plans to take more stress off of its teachers.

“Our plan is to not let teachers do both unless they agree to it or want to do it. We’re hoping to have that more streamlined and have a process in place better suited for that,” he said. “This year with the numbers we had, we couldn’t do that.”

The Magnolia School District hasn’t decided yet if it would implement a permanent virtual option. This week the district posted a planning survey on its site and Facebook page asking the public to answer the questions so that their input can be considered.

“We are gauging interest from our community and from those parents that are virtual right now if it’s something that they would like to continue. What has been their experience in that? What has not worked well? What platforms have been effective,” Superintendent John Ward said.

“If this is something we are going to do permanently, it needs to be a lot more rigorous. It needs to be more accountable.”

Stephani Manning-Bradford’s 6th grade son has been learning virtually from home since the pandemic began. She appreciates the district getting ahead on the planning process so parents like herself can plan accordingly too.

“They are doing it in a time frame that it can be implemented in a way that parents can be notified, that students can be notified and everyone can be trained on the process and what’s expected,” Bradford said.

Her son has had a positive virtual experience with teachers and staff in the Magnolia School District but Bradford says this permanent option will only work if there is an organized way of communicating about technical problems and other issues that may arise.

“We have parents who have high school diplomas to college diplomas and we need to make sure all parents understand what that child is supposed to do,” she said.

Ward say this is also an option for those who are engaged in private homeschooling and want to return to public schools.

“This is a time for our homeschool parents to really come back to public school and keep their kids at home. If they are homeschooling they are using some type of platform whether it be virtual Arkansas or some other curriculum. We would love to have them come back and they can still homeschool their kids,” Ward said.

Ward says although the option is “permanent” he doesn’t know how long it will last. The plan is something that will have to be assessed annually.

The Magnolia School District is urging parents to fill out the survey. They hope to have a plan built by April and are asking for parent feedback within the next week so staff can analyze all of that information to put together a platform that works.

Their has been some misunderstanding that all students will have to attend school virtually next year and school districts want to assure the public that that is not the case.

“Our doors will be open next year,” Ward said. “We will have onsite instruction.”

We also reached out to Strong, Camden Fairview, Smackover-Norphlet and Crossett school districts. Superintendents say they are also planning for the 2021-2022 and will discuss if a permanent learning option is feasible.

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