Wisconsin Virtual Academy

Background / The Early Years

  • authorized by the McFarland School District in 2009
  • seems like most teachers hired had no online experience
  • early students had learning coach and teachers; teachers had head of school
  • 2009-10 had 3 senior graduates; 2 came to live ceremony
  • WI state law changed the cap for how many students could be enrolled in virtual schools, which increased the enrollment significantly
  • A school of 80 with 3 graduates has now become 1000
  • HS employs 36 teachers, a 620% staffing increase
  • Content of teams of 1 have become as many as 6-teacher teams
  • Now students have multiple supports and the learning coach has supports as well
  • students have guidance counselors; more English teachers offering different courses; teachers have an academic administrator b/w teachers and head of school; teachers have a dept lead, a PLC (lead), a mentor teacher (if new), and instructional coaches
  • 2009-14 grad rate increased 23.3%; 93% of AP-exam-taking students earned college credit

Growing Pains

  • challenge of supporting a growing at-risk population
  • difficulty in distinguishing between true academic needs and disengagement and how to address them differently
  • some potential solutions:
    • different homeroom / advisory models
    • grade level advisors
    • increased guidance staff allows for more individualized course selection
    • data driven instruction, especially to assess engagement vs. academic support
    • focused on staff members as learning coaches for the disengaged: daily reminders via text or call, etc.
    • students come to a face-to-face orientation (but, those that showed to the face-to-face would have transitioned more easily than those that didn’t anyway)
    • now orientation is all online and students are mandated to attend
  • Increased cap meant that students can enroll at any time rather than during an enrollment period; how are such students transitioned in successfully?
  • teachers also had a crunch because they had to get students onboard face to face but also get their courses going
    • advisors came to help with orientation
    • FASST team (family services) to help with transition / difficulty
    • designating specific staff member(s) to deal with new students: welcoming, onboarding, etc.
    • if new student expectations go unmet, FASST referral is made

Onboarding New Teachers

  • early-on, teachers were teaching all levels of a subject (10-15 math courses / preps)
  • growth meant that preps were lower but student numbers were significantly higher
  • student difficulties became varied, from at-risk to disengaged, etc.
  • WI state testing occurs in Oct / Nov, right when teachers / courses are hitting their stride
  • to address difficulties, teachers developed specialties
  • departments and teams were formed
  • expert teachers took on biggest challenges

Data Driven Instruction

  • early on, school was very flexible; not a lot of deadlines (or at least flexible deadlines): as long as work was turned in by end of semester
  • problem with that is that, if work is not turned in, there is no data to drive instruction
  • so deadlines were implemented within a flexible structure, i.e. not hard deadlines every day but a window within which things are due

Hiring New Teachers

  • growth meant hiring teachers mid-year, which meant it was difficult to train / transition them properly
  • being at home can be isolating; each new teacher received at least one visit, either at home or at a mid-point; the visit was to ask / answer questions but also to assess where teachers were in terms of their abilities / potential

Using Data

  • teachers tended to be reactionary instead of proactive
  • data was used to focused on metrics of the student body rather than its achievement
  • changes to state assessments contributed to availability and usability of data
  • there was a lack of cohesive expectations for teaches which lead to each class feeling different for students