Virtual school proposed in Iberville

Middle- and high-school students in the northern reaches of Iberville Parish could have a new option that would allow them to take classes while staying closer to home.

The parish’s public school system could soon incorporate virtual education into its list of offerings, if plans move forward to create a proposed virtual math, science and arts, or MSA, academy.

Superintendent of Schools P. Edward Cancienne Jr. introduced the plan during the Iberville Parish School Board’s meeting last week.

“This is the beginning of something that we think can be very, very big in this school system and in the state,” he said.

The proposed online academy, dubbed Virtual MSA North, would be based at the North Iberville Elementary School campus in Rosedale.

Cancienne said that one of the program’s primary goals is to provide a comprehensive, local education option for northern Iberville Parish students who do not want to travel to Plaquemine to attend Plaquemine High School or the system’s MSA West campus.

However, he said that the virtual academy would also serve as a parishwide hub for virtual education, giving students the chance to complete course work part time either on site or online.

“For instance, if I’m a student at White Castle and I need credit recovery, I can work through this program at White Castle High because my courses are being offered virtually,” the superintendent said.

Tom Sowders, a Ph.D. candidate at LSU interning with the school district and assisting with the project, told the School Board during its first briefing on the proposal that the Iberville program would be modeled after similar schools in Breaux Bridge and Lafayette.

“This is a trend that’s happening across the country,” Sowders said. “We want to take this idea and improve and build upon what they’re doing.”

Sowders explained that the school’s library and computer lab space would be renovated to include an upgraded computer lab, facilitator stations, enclosed tutoring stations, a reading corner and Internet cafe.

The academy would utilize the e2020 virtual education program, Cancienne said. According to information on the website of e2020 creator EdSurge, the software, is “a research-based video course curriculum used across the country, offering more than 125 semester-equivalent core and elective online courses for students, grades 6-12.”

“We’re working with the sixth-graders at North Iberville right now to expose them to E2020 as soon as testing is over,” Cancienne said.

Full-time students taking part in the program would be required to carry a grade-point average of 2.75 or above and not create discipline problems, the superintendent said.

Students would be able to complete course work at their own pace either from home or on site, Cancienne said. However, full-time students would be required to travel to the school to take all tests, while part-time students would take tests at their respective local school. All tests would be monitored by proctors.

Plaquemine High School Principal Chandler Smith said the virtual system could change the way the system conducts its summer school program.

“It would replace summer school in the sense of physically going to a brick-and-mortar building,” he said. “Plus, in our current summer school, we’re only able to offer so many courses and have to find certified teachers. The e2020 program is so robust that it has courses for which we don’t even have teachers.”

Smith said the online program could also help to better reach homebound students.

“The state only allocates so much for teachers of homebound students to travel and meet with them,” he said. “E2020 uses a ‘virtual person’ that guides you through the course. You can pause or rewind. It’s better than what the homebound program is currently able to offer.”

Brandie Blanchard, system personnel and policy supervisor, said the virtual options could also increase the system’s graduation rates.

“The students will be able to recover credits,” she said. “It keeps them in their cohorts. Early graduation is also a possibility. There are a lot of different options that we’re able to do with this, because the requirements are different than that of the state.”

Cancienne said full-time students enrolled at MSA Virtual North would have the opportunity to take part in extracurricular activities, such as athletics and band, at Plaquemine High School.

The students, he said, “have every right to take part in extracurricular activities. A bus would depart from North Iberville at 2 p.m. each day and take them to Plaquemine High and back.”

Sowders said instituting the program would be a critical step in improving the school district.

“I think, undoubtedly, the whole state is going to have its eyes on Iberville Parish,” he said. “I’ve traveled around the state visiting virtual schools and have seen them online. I think this will really blow people away.

The School Board will further discuss and could possibly approve the program at its April meeting,