Johnson City Schools officials discuss opening ‘a fully online school’ for 2021-2022 school year

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Officials with Johnson City Schools are discussing the possibility of opening a “fully online school as a 12th school for the 2021-2022 school year.”

That announcement came in a release from school officials Friday afternoon, citing that a small group of school leaders, teachers and principals met last week to discuss the online school.

The discussion about the online school was led by consultant Tom Murray, pictured above, who serves as the director of innovation for Future Ready Schools.

Johnson City Schools Superintendent Steve Barnett said in part, “This session will jumpstart our plans as we look at programs that have been successful and work on creating a program that will be successful for our students.” 

The fully remote school will be designed to deliver instruction and support virtually and not mirror the in-person instruction.

“The rigor that needs to be there for virtual schools, for it to be part of the Johnson City Schools system needs to be at the level that you see in a regular classroom,” Johnson City Schools superintendent, Dr. Steve Barnett said.

This is a topic Johnson City Schools educators said has been a discussion since before the pandemic.

Johnson City Schools supervisor of secondary and instructional technology, Dr. David Timbs said, “It will give students a lot more flexibility, especially, those students who may have a job a reason to want to take extra classes and be able to graduate from high school a semester early, which is allowable in Tennessee and Johnson City Schools.”

There are about 2,000 students in the district participating in the fully remote learning option, in the fall 2020 semester.

“Over the last 6 to 8 months, everybody nationwide has been reacting to have virtual programs during a pandemic and one thing that we’ve sensed is that our community is going to have an expectation for a virtual program moving forward. Rather than being reactive, we’re trying to be proactive at this point and begin to design a permanent solution. Not just for our students but for our families and for our teachers,” Dr. Timbs said.

“It’s not for everybody,” Dr. Barnett said. “It provides another option, another opportunity for families. It also can provide opportunities for our students at Science Hill High School to be able to be part of a virtual school but also take CTE courses and other courses that we offer at the high school in person, so we could do a virtual approach if we have a virtual school as well.”

Doctor Barnett said they system is focusing on the middle school and high school levels for this new virtual school.

Doctor Timbs added, “We’ll still be teaching all of the same curriculum but virtual school does not look like in-person school. That’s something I think across the nation that honestly, a lot of educators have struggled with in trying to make everything that we do online look like it does in-person.”

As for the next step in developing an online school in Johnson City, “Going forward, the district will create a timeline for the winter, spring, and summer that will include surveys of stakeholders, selection of teachers, professional development, and marketing for the new virtual school,” according to the release.

The school system plans to reallocate staff and will do so through a selection process. The discussions will continue after the third quarter, which will take place in late February or early March.

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