TISD’s Virtual Academy to cease at end of year

Texarkana Independent School District trustees voted Tuesday night to discontinue the district's Virtual Academy program because the state has significantly changed the rules since its inception four years ago.

The spring 2015 semester will be the last for students.

TISD was one of three public school districts approved by the Texas Education Agency in 2011 to participate in the Texas Virtual School Electronic Course Program. TISD's program provides online learning options to students in grades 3-8.

"Since opening in 2011, the Texas Legislature and the Texas Education Agency have changed the terms of participation … governing online/virtual programming," Superintendent Pazaul Norton explained. "Those changes, coupled with burdens that were being placed on our assessment division and the fact that fewer and fewer parents are available during the day to provide support to their students who are learning online, have made it unfavorable for us to continue to operate the school."

TISD began its academy in the 2011-12 school year to provide more online schooling to students who, for whatever reasons, choose not to attend traditional brick-and-mortar schools. TISD teachers used a customized version of the world-renowned curriculum from Calvert Educational Services.

Norton said the Texarkana academy has served an estimated 106 students per year from as far west as El Paso, south to San Antonio, Houston, Austin and many in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Students had course studies tailored to their individual strengths and needs. Studies included English, math, science, social studies, physical education, health, fine arts and Spanish for grades 7 and 8. All students enrolled in the academy had the same accountability measures required by the state and were required to take all annual assessments.

Norton said academy teachers are disappointed but have been gracious in understanding the constraints the state has placed on the program.

At the beginning of the meeting, trustees held a public hearing on the district's Texas Academic Performance Report from TEA for 2013-14. All campuses met standards for student performance results on the 2014 State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness except for Westlawn Elementary. Dunbar Early Education Center and Theron Jones Early Literacy Center are non-tested schools.

TISD received 14 Distinction Designations, the most in the area, Norton said. Martha and Josh Morriss Elementary received six distinctions; Texas High School, four; Nash Elementary, two; and Spring Lake Park and Wake Village elementary schools received one each.

"We are extremely pleased with the results and the 75 percent increase in Distinction Designations over last year," Norton said. "I commend our students, staff and parents on their state-testing efforts and look forward to seeing greater success in the future."

The TAPR report can be found online at txkisd.net/aboutTISD/districtperformance.asp.

Trustees approved maximum class size exception waivers for two classrooms each at Highland Park and Spring Lake Park elementary schools. As part of Texas Education Code 25.112, each school district in Texas is required to review its class size enrollment to determine whether its class size for kindergarten through fourth grade meet the requirements. If the survey indicates any class exceeding a 22-to-1 student-teacher ratio, the district must submit a class size waiver and compliance plan.

"Class size waiver exceptions at the elementary level have become a standard at TISD during the past 10 years due to our steady enrollment increases," said Nanette Power, executive director of quality assurance. "We make every effort to maintain less than a 24-to-1 student-teacher ratio."

In other business, trustees approved the 2015-16 tuition rate for ineligible students to be set at $5,255 per student, an increase of $94. TISD establishes a tuition fee each year for students seeking enrollment that are ineligible for state funding. The annual rate is set according to the estimated Adjusted Basic Allotment the district expects to receive from the state.

Trustees heard from Brian Grubbs, managing director of SAMCO Capital Markets Inc., on the summary of the plan of finance for the Nov. 4, 2014, bond election for $29.9 million. Financial advisers will price and sell the bonds Feb. 17 and trustees will review the bond sales results during a meeting that evening and likely adopt the order authorizing issuance of the bonds.

The bond closing and transfer of funds will be on March 18. TISD anticipates breaking ground on the new Sixth Grade Center at Texas Middle School in early April, with work on the new elementary school being started shortly thereafter. Both are expected to open for the 2016-17 school year.