St. Tammany School Board offers virtual classroom program

With a virtual classroom ready for initial testing, the St. Tammany Parish School Board is set to help parents who decide to homeschool their children.

Beginning in September, up to 200 junior high students will be able to take online classes, Cheryl Arabie, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said Thursday at a committee as a whole meeting at the C.J. Schoen Administrative Complex in Covington.

Registration for the online academy begins in August on the School Board’s website, www.stpsb.org. The virtual classes will begin just after Labor Day. Any sixth-, seventh- or eighth-grader who lives in St. Tammany Parish will be eligible.

“I’m excited about the virtual school possibilities that we have,” Superintendent Trey Folse said. “I just think it’s the world we’re moving into. Some people thrive in the traditional school setting, while others do better in another way. This will help us reach some students we haven’t been able to before.”

This isn’t the first step St. Tammany has taken into the virtual world. For the past couple of years, students have been able to take makeup classes online, and there has been a long waiting list to do so.

The school system plans to use 16 part-time teachers at the start and projects the program will have a total cost of about $300,000, Arabie said. Also, since it will be allowed to hold on to state money for each of those students, between $1 million and $1.5 million would be added back into the School Board’s $360 million annual budget.

“This is a pilot program,” Arabie said. “If it is successful, we do plan on expanding the number of students and the grade levels offered to include high school levels.”

Also on Thursday’s agenda, the annual evaluation of school uniforms was issued, and most schools gave overwhelming approval. Forty-nine of the system’s 55 schools wear uniforms: The exceptions are Covington High, Fontainebleau High, Lakeshore High, Lee Road Junior High, Mandeville High and Pearl River High.

Of the approximately 30,000 students who attend schools that use uniforms, none filed for exemptions. Also, 98 percent of schools reported that uniforms “contributed to a reduction in student discipline problems,” the evaluation stated.

In a construction update, work at Slidell High, Fifth Ward Junior High in Bush and Carolyn Park Middle near Slidell was offered as “substantially complete.” At Slidell High, the gym floor was replaced and some classroom wings were re-roofed. Fifth Ward needed re-roofing of the main building, a kindergarten wing and some walkways. Carolyn Park also had re-roofing done. The combined cost was $1.42 million.

The School Board also gave preliminary approval to authorize $20 million in bonds, the majority of which will be used for technology and security updates, including the purchase of testing computers, needed software and classroom wiring.

About $5 million of the bonds would be used for capital improvement plans and temporary classrooms while construction is being done.

“Technology gets old fast, and our plans are to refresh what we have,” Folse said. “Also, we have requirements from the state to deal with testing that are quite expensive.”