Posted Date: 03/04/2020
Board hears update on Union Virtual pilot program
Gart Morris, executive director of Instructional Technology, provided an update on Union Virtual, a pilot program the district debuted in the fall that provides expanded virtual learning offerings for students in grades 6-12. Where previous programs were a blended model that limited the number of online classes students can take, Union Virtual enables students selected for the program to take as many as 100% of their courses online. They will also have the option to take elective courses – like Fine Arts or athletics – in a face-to-face setting.
Unlike the blended model, Union Virtual does not require a weekly in-person “check-in” attendance requirement. Union Virtual has a shared teacher/facilitator through the Aspire program, Angie Goins, who checks in with students and has regular office hours where students can get extra help.
“We currently have 30 to 35 students involved in six classes each, across six grade levels,” said Morris. “Altogether, that is 220 individual courses. If there is a subject that Angie can’t help with, she refers students to other teachers for assistance.”
Content providers for Union’s program are Edgenuity and the Florida Virtual curriculum. Morris said Union Virtual is strictly limited to students in grades 6-12. “We didn’t feel like serving elementary students was a best practice on this,” he said.
Amy McCready, associate director of Union Adult Learning Center, coordinates Union Virtual, working closely with counselors to ensure students have the necessary courses to meet requirements. “Students can take five classes and one elective, or four courses and two electives,” said Morris. “The student may say, ‘I want to take chemistry in person,’ and we allow that to happen.”
Morris said the program appears to be most effective for those who have made good academic progress in face-to-face classes. “They tend to transition well to virtual. Conversely, those who struggled in regular school tend to struggle in virtual. Our experience has borne this out.”
Office hours are offered at both offered at both the Union Freshman Academy and the Innovation Lab. First semester, the program served 38 students enrolled in 218 courses. Second semester has 36 students enrolled in 216 courses.
Union Virtual has clear benefits that make it superior to other virtual programs. “First, there is greater academic support, and it is an easier transition back to traditional schooling if Union Virtual doesn’t work for the student,” said Morris. “Also, Union’s vast number of elective options – band, orchestra, choir, and athletics – yet students can still be in Union Virtual.”
Morris said students and parents can expect “honest counseling” when weighing the merits of virtual vs. traditional school. “Charter virtual schools are not going to counsel students not to enroll in their programs. Union, however, is going to work with parents to make the choice that best serves the student. If we don’t think they will be successful in virtual, we will not counsel them toward that option.”
Union’s program is more rigorous and comes with higher expectation, so does not allow prescriptive testing in order for students to “test out” of a course. “The research has not proven that to be an effective option,” said Morris.
“We need to ask ourselves if we are filling student needs in the best way possible. We are seeing more students who are struggling who are applying to Union Virtual. The struggling brings with it a lot of baggage. Students are looking for something to give them a little hope, a little success. If we can get them through one online course, we can try another one.”
Board considers 2020-2021 school calendar
The Board of Education on first reading considered one proposed option for the 2020-2021 school calendar. The proposed calendar has the first day of school starting on Thursday, August 13, which is about a week earlier than is typical for the district. However, the upside is that it would enable families to take off the entire week of Thanksgiving, and if approved, provide greater balance between the first and second semesters. January 4, 2021, would be the start date for the spring semester. The last day of school – if no snow days were used – would be May 18. In the event all snow days are used, May 31 would be the last day. The Board will consider approval of the calendar during second reading at its next meeting on February 10. View the proposed calendar here.
Comments about the proposal may be directed to [email protected].
Board officials approve two administrative changes
Board members approved two administrative changes put in place by Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler, naming Scott Pennington director of the new Hope – Guidance – Social and Emotional Learning Department and naming Clayton Hucke interim 7th Grade Principal.
As part of Union’s five-year district strategic plan, Pennington and the new department will center on Union’s Learning Model that focuses on literacy, cognitive capacity, engagement, and social and emotional learning.
Previously, Hartzler stated, “It is now time for us to articulate a tiered approach to addressing unwanted student behaviors and student trauma – at all grade levels – while also fostering greater hope and confidence in our students’ lives. The idea is that we will be more proactive in our efforts, providing counseling and guidance to address the social, emotional, and academic needs of our students. I firmly believe this will make a positive difference in our students’ lives and in the learning culture of our buildings.”
Pennington will office at the Education Service Center. Clayton Hucke, who was assistant principal at the High School, has assumed principal duties at the seventh grade.
New furniture coming to Community Health Connection
As Union prepares to open the new Community Health Connection clinic next to Ellen Ochoa Elementary latter this spring, the Board of Education approved a bid of $216,637 from L&M Furniture for new furniture.
The furniture, which will be used for offices, reception areas and nurses’ stations, will be paid for by the City of Tulsa’s Vision funds.
In a separate matter, Board members approved the purchase of a new International Truck from Summit Truck Group for $79,429 to come out of voter-approved bond funds. The Board declared an older truck with no engine as “surplus,” agreeing to apply $10,000 on trade-in.
In other action, the Board:
• Approved an agreement with Christview Christian Church for a mentoring program at Boevers Elementary. The purpose of this agreement is to support the social/emotional needs of students by providing group and one-on-one mentoring to Boevers students during the 2019-20 school year.
• Accepted a donation of 15 used computers from a parent for use at Andersen Elementary, valued at $900.
• Approved an agreement with the social media site LinkedIn for recruiting needs. The Linkedln agreement provides for a 12-month subscription for use of their recruitment tools, job-posting board, and 200,000 recruiting advertisements directly to individuals identified as possible candidates for openings at Union Public Schools. The recruiter tools allow Union to specifically search for needed skillsets and to contact those candidates directly without waiting for them to apply.
• Approved an agreement with Tulsa Glass Blowing for after-school programs with McAuliffe Elementary. The class for students will be a seven-week program.
• Approved an agreement with Twist and Shout for tumbling classes at McAuliffe Elementary.