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Virtual school may soon become reality
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Forsyth County News
The board also voted to approve the following:
• Three-day employee furloughs to help alleviate budget shortfalls in compliance with Gov. Sonny Perdue’s suggestion. The days will fall on scheduled planning days. Forsyth County school system employees who work between 190 and 230 days, including teachers, nurses and food service personnel, must take unpaid leave Aug. 7, Oct. 12 and Jan. 4. For employees who work 240 days, which include administrators and central office personnel, the required days off will be Nov. 25 and Dec. 23 and 30.
• A resolution to partner with the United States Census Bureau to increase awareness of the census, helping to ensure a full and accurate count in the county. The board will encourage schools to use Census related educational activities and will help disseminate 2010 Census information to encourage county residents to respond to the questionnaire. An accurate census count helps determine where to locate schools and other public facilities, and is used to make decisions concerning business and housing needs.
By next school year, kids may be able to get a Forsyth County Schools’ education from the comfort of their own home.

During Thursday’s meeting, school board members took the first step to creating the iQ Academy, Georgia’s first kindergarten through twelfth grade virtual school.

The board unanimously agreed to send a charter school petition to the state Department of Education for approval.

“Our community spoke pretty loud and clear that they wanted us to begin expanding educational opportunities for our students,” Associate Superintendent Lissa Pijanowski told board members. “One of the top five things that they asked for were more virtual learning opportunities.”

Currently there are two other virtual academies in the state, one serving kindergarten through eighth grade students and another for high school students.

Pijanowski said about 300 of the county’s students are currently enrolled in those virtual schools.

While the iQ Academy will be a more attractive option for those students in particular, she said all students in the county could benefit from the program.

Teachers could use some of the online courses to enhance lesson plans and parents of home-schooled students could use the classes as a supplemental resource, said Pijanowski.

Students could also take a class online at night instead of having to go to summer school or take online classes in conjunction with college courses. For students who work or have other obligations, some courses could be taken in school and others taken online, working around the students’ schedules.

While the online option could be a valuable instructional tool, Pijanowski said it’s not likely to replace a standard school day.

“There’s a different aspect in school. There’s a social aspect of school that a lot of kids will want to go to a base school for. There’s also the extracurricular and the athletics and the whole school culture environment,” she said after the meeting.

“But high school schedules are going to look very different in the near future and the iQ Academy will help us facilitate that.”

One of the system’s first priorities will be informing parents and community members to explain specifics.

“We’re going to start having some community forums and focus groups in the fall, before the school even starts, recruiting students and teachers so that we can make sure that they understand and get a comfort level,” she said. “We’d like to make sure that parents and students really have an understanding about what we’re desiring in our iQ Academy, to be sure that they feel comfortable with that option.”

Pijanowski said estimates show that by 2015, half of high school courses will be offered online.

During the meeting, board member Tom Cleveland noted the change could take place even sooner.

“I think as we start down the road today, we’re supposed to prepare them for whatever they’re going to do and ... a lot of it is online,” he said. “If you graduate today, that’s the environment you’re going to be in and if we’re not preparing them for that world, they’re not set up for the study habits and skills to do that.”

The iQ Academy would be run in partnership with KC Distance Learning Inc., a leading provider of online learning environments.

There’s still a long way to go before the program is implemented locally.

By the end of the year, the state’s Board of Education will take action on the school board’s charter request. If the charter academy is approved, the system will begin applying for grants in January. Hiring and planning would begin soon after.

“We feel like we’re really trying to be on the cutting edge on what kids need and how they like to learn best to keep them in school and give them the education that they need,” said Pijanowksi. “Our kids are changing the way they learn and how they want to engage in school, and if we want to keep them, we’re going to have to look at doing some things differently.”

E-mail Jennifer Sami at jennifersami@forsythnews.com.