Mesquite ISD joined the state-wide effort to convince the Texas Legislature to allow districts to continue virtual learning before its closure on May 31.
As the Texas Legislature nears its recess for the next two years, school districts across the state reached out to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Chairman Larry Taylor and members of the Senate Education Committee to extend the option of virtual learning into the 2021/2022 school year.
“One of the reasons we jumped on the letter and decided to support this endeavor is that we've seen that the COVID landscape has changed how we give education,” MISD Deputy Superintendent Ángel Rivera said. “There are some students who have thrived in the virtual model and experienced more growth than in the face-to-face model that we have traditionally used in the past.”
Because there was a pocket of students who benefited from the virtual program, Mesquite ISD believed it best to continue offering a funded virtual academy for those who want to enroll.
“We are not saying that virtual learning is good for all students,” Rivera said. “We are saying that we've seen and heard from some kids who actually benefited from having the virtual model. Because there are enough students who benefited from the virtual component, we wanted to have that option for our community.”
Mesquite ISD began developing a program called the CORE Academy, which will offer complete synchronous instruction where students have a teacher assigned to them and can enroll in the necessary courses required for a student to graduate.
Students who choose the virtual option will be required to stay virtual for the full academic year unless the district decides the student is in danger academically. The student will then be transitioned to face-to-face instruction.
“The teachers would not be split platform. They would not work with face-to-face students while they work with virtual students,” Rivera said. “What we've seen is when you divide the lesson design, it's difficult for the faculty and staff to make sure everything is covered for both forms of learning. What we're doing now is dedicating virtual teachers that can address virtual student needs.”
Mesquite ISD plans to hire teachers for the CORE program and look at the more effective practices used by current teachers. They will build them into a learning module, so teachers can be trained in virtual learning.
“The courses will be somewhat limited, but we hope to overtime make it as comprehensive as possible,” Rivera said.
Because of the limitations of online learning, there has been some hesitation on the community and district side.
“Ideally, everybody wants to have all the offerings,” Rivera said. “Realistically, we cannot do that. That is the hesitation I see on both sides. The district wants to do their job and meet the needs of other students without jeopardizing the quality of education they are getting.”
If approved by legislature, the growth of the CORE academy will be based on student feedback through satisfaction surveys and academic data collected by the district. According to a survey sent out by the district, around 820 parents showed interest in the program.
By the Texas Legislature's closure, Mesquite ISD will have an answer regarding virtual learning.