Virtual schools altering landscape of Hoosier public education

Illustration by Heather Bremer | CNHI News Indiana

ROYAL CENTER – Teachers at Pioneer Regional School Corporation have had it.

And it’s not how the corporation is operating under these unprecedented conditions, it’s because parents are making poor decisions, according to educators at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“I am more stressed with my virtual learning students than I am with 60 students in a classroom,” said Tricia Kasten, fifth-grade teacher. “Parents are not using the at-home learning for legitimate reasons.”

Teachers cannot hold virtual learners accountable in the same way that they do in-class students because parents are supposed to be the main point of reference. “In my opinion, we have a lot of parents who are not putting in the effort; and, instead, they’re relying on teachers when it’s the parents’ responsibility,” said Abby Armick, elementary physical education instructor.

When parents signed up their children for online classes, they agreed to monitor work, assist with problems, and ensure homework was submitted on time. However, according to the teachers, this has not been happening.

In fact, Kasten said she has an online student who attends volleyball games, softball games, and other activities. The reason behind at-home learning was so students could avoid public settings such as classrooms. But if parents are permitting their children to attend public events like games, then those children also should be required to be in seats at the school, she said.

Board member Lisa Kesling said that “we’re not in a position where we can go to parents and ask if your reason is legitimate.”

But Armick thinks such steps should be taken. Parents keep telling her that this is not a normal year and “I get that. We’re living it. It’s rough. Because of the choices parents are making, it’s going to be detrimental to [the students’] education. This will be an uphill struggle.”

The only way to combat the problem is to have students return to the classrooms, the teachers agreed. Even if that happens, though, virtual students are going to be further behind the curve than those who are at school. So far, four more elementary students have returned out of the 42 enrolled in online studies. The high school has dropped from 80 to 65 virtual learners.

“[S]omewhere as a corporation, we need to focus on the money or the quality of education,” said Kasten.

Each corporation receives funding based upon student count. The more students, the more money. Those students who have opted for virtual learning instead of returning to the classroom count toward the overall population. But Kasten believes the focus should not be on the number of students, it should be on the education each student receives.

Superintendent Charles Grable agreed that education must be the top priority. But teachers need a paycheck and the corporation needs funds, which are all dependent upon state funding. “It’s a legislative issue. People want additional money, and it comes down to how many kids you have.”

Yet, if parents of online students are not held accountable for their actions as well as their children’s education, then Kasten thinks Pioneer may not have enough teachers next school year. “Some [teachers] say they will be retiring … and they have three to five years left.”

Armick said some are talking about leaving before this current school year ends.

PARKING LOT

The corporation will be holding parents accountable at the pick-up spot just behind B&K West in Logansport.

According to Grable, parents have not been following the rules when picking up and dropping off their children. This site is a bus stop for students who choose to attend Pioneer, but live outside the school district.

Because parents are pulling out of the lot before they’re supposed to, “it has become a safety issue,” said Grable.

Therefore, the board agreed to pay two people an annual stipend of $500 each to work as guards at the lot. Parents who fail to abide by the rules will lose their privileges of accessing this property. The second warning will be the last warning, Grable said.

TOP SCHOOL

Pioneer High School Principal Jeff Brooke reported to the board that the school received an “A” for the first time. Each year, the state evaluates corporations on their performances, including test scores, graduation rates, and attendance. Then, the state issues a letter grade associated with the performance.

Last year, Pioneer received a “B.”

The school also was ranked 55 out of 682 as a “best school in Indiana” by U.S. News and World Report.

Reach Kristi Hileman at kristi.hileman@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5150

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