At the April work session of the Forsyth County Board of Education, board members heard a proposal from Forsyth Virtual Academy Principal Drew Hayes that would reportedly improve flexibility for virtual academy students by transitioning Forsyth Virtual Academy into a program, rather than a separate institution, as it is now.
Hayes told the board that one of the problems they have run into at Forsyth Virtual Academy is the disconnect between a student and their base high school if they take the majority of their classes at FVA.
"If they needed to take too many courses with us at Forsyth Virtual Academy then they had to become a fulltime FVA student and then couldn't also take one or two classes at Lambert [High School] or one or two classes at North [Forsyth High School]," Hayes said.
This disconnect, Hayes said, goes against the idea that Forsyth Virtual Academy was founded to give students the flexibility to take whatever classes they need to finish school in their own way. Around 1,400 students are enrolled at the academy, Hayes said, of which 100 are full-time.
“That flexibility is a tenant of what we try to do,” Hayes said. “We are trying to offer options to kids so that they can take a class. No matter what, they're able to have access to that class, even if it doesn't fit into their regular day schedule."
The disconnect, according to Hayes, goes beyond stopping full-time Forsyth Virtual Academy students from taking some classes at their base school. It also prevents them from participating in extracurricular activities or from graduating with their base schools, Hayes said.
"Once they went to do it with us at [Forsyth Virtual Academy] we had to tell them no, because now you're full-time with us, which means you're going to have to graduate with [Forsyth Virtual Academy]," he said. "For someone that's been at West [Forsyth High School] for three years or for three and a half years, you can certainly understand the commitment of wanting to finish that."
Hayes said they are proposing to transition Forsyth Virtual Academy into a program, rather than a separate school, reportedly an “on paper” distinction that would change nothing, beyond giving their full-time students the flexibility to set their schedule how they need to and provide access to everything that traditional high school students provide.
"Basically what would happen under this model is your base school [will remain] your base school ... now you can take all of your classes with [Forsyth Virtual Academy] if that's what you choose to do. You can choose to do a dual enrollment scenario ... or a combination of all of those things," he said. "This model allows us to provide the most support to the base school and the kids ... and it’s something that we think that'll just improve what we're able to do."
After Hayes’ presentation, Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden voiced his support for the proposal, stating that the ideas and leaders at Forsyth Virtual Academy are setting a “very high bar” for virtual instruction.
"In a system like ours with [a] 94, 95 percent graduation rate, one question we always ask is ‘how do we improve upon that?’” Bearden said. "This is one way that you improve upon that. You have more flexibility for students, to meet students where they are, to make sure that they are able to find their niche and do it really well.”
Bearden said that the proposal will come back next week for approval at the Board of Education meeting.
If approved, school officials say that the switch at Forsyth Virtual Academy will occur in June 2019, so the current school year can close out.
Before the switch happens, Hayes said that school counselors in the system and families of Forsyth Virtual Academy students will be briefed on what the change means.