Hancock ready to open its online academy

NEW CUMBERLAND – Hancock County Schools are on track to launch West Virginia’s first public online academy in the second trimester of the new school year, the school board learned on Monday.

The Hancock County Cyber Academy will offer online courses in English, math, science and social studies that can be taken by traditional and homebound students, Superintendent Suzan Smith said.

“There’s so many things you can do with this,” she said.

Students who complete the cyber academy will earn a regular high school diploma.

“They are covering the same content standards as if they were in a face-to-face class,” Smith said.

In a board presentation on Monday, Hancock County teachers Vince McIntosh and Adam Howell said the school district has lost 33 students to online schools such as Penn Foster and that the new cyber academy will help “stop the hemorrhaging.”

McIntosh, an English teacher at Weir High School, and Howell, a social studies teacher at Oak Glen High School, are among 13 teachers who were authorized by the board in June to develop the courses.

Since then, they have received training and other support from Pennsylvania Intermediate Unit 1, a multi-county education agency, and its Cyber Solutions Initiative. The Hancock County courses will be powered by Moodle, a free software e-learning platform, McIntosh said.

“Our primary concern is keeping students enrolled in Hancock County Schools,” McIntosh said. “We think the Hancock County online school will play a major role in that.”

Startup and training costs are being covered by a $120,000 grant from the Pittsburgh-based Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. The Hancock County pilot initiative has already generated interest on the part of the West Virginia Board of Education, Smith said.

Howell said the classes under development include four English courses for ninth through 12th grades; three science courses, including biology, earth science and physical science; three math courses, including Math 1, 2 and 3; and two social studies courses, including civics and 10th-grade U.S. history.

Those classes should be ready in time for the start of the second trimester in mid-November, Howell said. Other classes are under development, he said.

“It’s all the stuff you cover in a regular classroom,” McIntosh said. “You don’t just go online, do a couple of Google searches, hand in a worksheet and call it a day.”

Also Monday, the board:

Heard complaints from parent Simon Fighiroae of Chester about the new busing schedule, which will combine high school and middle school routes. Fighiroae, whose two children attend Allison Elementary School and Oak Glen Middle School, said the new schedule will mean a 6 a.m. wakeup time for his middle-schooler.

“That is way too early,” he said. “To wake up a sixth-grader at 6 o’clock – it is cruel.”

Fighiroae said he also doesn’t want his child mixing with high school students who may be a bad influence.

Combining routes means Oak Glen Middle School and Weir Middle School students will start their days an hour earlier and get out earlier. The new school year starts on Aug. 18 for teachers and Aug. 20 for students.

High school students will arrive at approximately 7:10 a.m. and depart at 2:40 p.m., while middle school students will arrive at approximately 7:15 a.m. and depart at 2:45 p.m.

Board President Jerry Durante said he understands Fighiroae’s concerns but that the benefits of the new policy outweigh the costs.

“There’s a potential here to save a huge amount of money because a lot of these buses run at less than capacity,” Durante said. “If it presents a problem, we’ll deal with it. If it blows up in our face, then we’ll go back to the way it was.”

Heard a complaint from parent Jennifer Click about an unnamed math teacher at Oak Glen High School who she said “bullied” her daughter last year.

Click said the teacher had it out for her daughter all year and, two weeks before the end of school, cornered her in the girl’s bathroom and wouldn’t let her leave.

Click said she spoke to OGHS and district administrators, including then-Principal Barbara Logue and Suzan Smith, before deciding to address the board.

“I was frustrated because I did everything you’re supposed to do and still got nowhere,” she said. “I was told, ‘Your kid’s getting an A, so what are you complaining about?'”

Click said her daughter will not have the same teacher this year. She said she talked to then-Assistant Principal David Smith, who told her the teacher would be “put on an improvement plan.”

Suzan Smith said she was not at liberty to discuss personnel matters but that “we did look into the situation. We did make arrangements, and that’s all I can say.”

Click said she wanted to address the board so other students don’t have to go through the same “emotional abuse” her daughter did.

Declared certain equipment and unneeded items in Broadview, Liberty and Weirton Heights Elementary schools as surplus property. The school buildings will be demolished later this year now that the new Weirton Elementary School is finished.

Declared an 8- by 12-foot wood shed and a 1995 GMC bucket truck surplus property.

Re-adopted the following school policies: school access; employee/visitor/vendor identification badge; parental request for an irregular bus stop/bus; and chaperones’ supervision of students.