DC, VA, WV - Guest Educator Panel – Lessons Learned in Our Digital Transition


This is certainly a great time for lessons learned -- both in our digital transitions, and as we make our way though the pandemic. This Guest Educator Panel features Ms. Morri Pace, Coordinator of Innovative Learning at Powhatan County Public Schools and Suzanne Sloane, Head of School at Virginia Virtual Academy.

According to Sloane, “At the Virginia Virtual Academy, I hire everyone from school psychologist to teachers, to counselors, to, advisors, to data operations, everybody. And we then invoice the school division for that work. So just prior to the pandemic, we had about 2000 students, that would be June of 2020. Then in August of 2020, we had 7,500 students. So, we hired 85 teachers in about 30 days. That was quite an undertaking, to get everybody through. But it was exciting. We had been doing it for many years and now we're working with several school divisions to help them get their online learning program up and running. Some lessons that we learned, you need to be very, very sure you are keeping in close contact with your families and with your students because when you grow that quickly, it becomes a matter of making sure that everybody is logged in and able to follow through what you're doing. And then not in two schools at once. We had students who were enrolled with us, starting their classes, starting their lessons, and also were enrolled with their local school division. You can't have dual enrollment happening at the same time. So it was a lot of coordination between the school divisions to say, ‘he's working with us. He's kind of logged into our system, but he's not in there every day.’ And we were saying the same thing, he's logged in with us. So we have to do a lot of report configuration by count day. I would say the other lesson that we learned is, everyone needs to feel like they belong. You know, feeling like you're a part of something bigger, feeling like you're a part of a family, whether it's your staff members, whether it's your students and your families. There was a lot of isolation last year, a lot of people feeling alone, and we had to find some ways to make everybody feel like they belonged.”

According to Pace, “You find that certain subjects lead better for certain students to be face-to-face. Reading is a big part of online. So, making sure that students are getting support and can read on the appropriate level of the materials that they're going to be given is important. Math is another, and some of the sciences are just so nuanced, even when I was working in an online school, we found that the students really struggled with those classes. Foreign languages or some of these other ones that are more auditory, we really found that kids excelled.”

“This is the first year that we dabbled in what you're calling hybrid and what we were calling in district out of district,” said Sloane. “So, the model for the last 11 years was we would partner with a particular county in Virginia, a particular school division. And all of the students, almost all of them would be out of district students. And they would be fully online K through 12. What happened this past year is people said, ‘wait a minute, I got some kids who want to be in the drama. I want to be in the band, want to be playing on the high school football team when you play tennis, want to do gymnastics, want to be in DECA club.’ And they want to come in for a little part of the day, but they want their content, their core content to be online. And so this is our very first year of doing that. And we're partnered with nine school divisions doing that hybrid model. Now I will tell you, I was surprised. I thought it would be mostly high school. But we had a lot of little ones that wanted to do the hybrid learning. They wanted to be in there for part of the day.”  

Don’t miss this free-for-all discussion. As is typical in our Lessons Learned discussions, panelists don’t hold back, and you’ll learn as they learned, with plenty of lessons you can bring back to your own school or district.


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