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Schools look to add virtual course options
Gainesville High students work on courses Wednesday in the school’s computer lab. The Hall County School System said it would like to offer at least five classes totally online, and Gainesville City Schools has plans to expand online options next year.

With more students, fewer teachers and less money, school systems are searching for ways to stay competitive with what they offer students.

An increasing trend to reach that objective is to look at other platforms of instruction — specifically a virtual option.

Both Hall County and Gainesville City school systems currently offer some form of virtual education.

Hall County offers two online courses for high school students: Spanish I and health. Those went live this semester.

Gainesville’s students have the option to take virtual classes — mostly for credit recovery, but initial credit can be earned as well — through vendor-produced platforms like Classworks and Education2020.

Both systems are offering blended learning, where technology and online resources are utilized in the classrooms.

But, locals schools are looking ahead and making plans to expand these online programs, giving students and their parents more choices and, more importantly, more flexibility.

“It allows us to be even more flexible about what we can offer,” said Jamey Moore, Gainesville director of curriculum and instruction. “The courses can be offered alongside all of the expertise that our teachers have.

“We’ve already begun telling parents and communicating that we want to be as flexible as possible with everything that we’re doing.”

Moore said the system hopes to expand its programs as early as next year to provide students at all of the schools additional choice in classes, most of which can be taken off campus.

“It’s flexible,” said Moore. “Whether it’s the world languages, the Advanced Placement, the electives, the pathway courses — through this virtual learning we can offer it all.”

Wood’s Mill High School has been working with virtual classes for four years, essentially piloting the platform for the system.

School officials said they’re taking what was learned from that and opening the doors for all students.

“Instead of building everything from scratch, we’re taking what we’ve seen done well at Wood’s Mill and opening up that in all of our charter schools,” said Moore. “What that would look like depends on what the needs are.”

This year, more than 140 students are participating in virtual or blended learning in city schools.

Hall County currently provides 100 percent virtual programming to more than 45 students. The majority of those students take online Spanish.

Its planned expansion, which is slated to include core classes and foreign language, could go live as early as next semester.

“This is a large expansion of the virtual academy,” said Aaron Turpin, executive director of technology for the system. “It would be intended for students who take all of their core courses at the virtual academy.”

The expansion would likely be open to grades sixth through 10th and students would be enrolled in their home schools to be eligible for extracurricular actives.

“We’ve had a lot of requests for more core courses in the virtual academy setting, so we’re responding to our community’s interest,” said Turpin.

Talks could lead into opening the academy to out-of-county, tuition-paying students. A more detailed proposal is likely to go before the board of education in January.

“The higher education landscape is already here,” said Turpin. “Virtual classes are not right for every child, but the ones that it is right for, we want to provide that option for the parents and kids.”

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