Bobcat Stadium was not the only site for a Hallsville ISD graduation this year.
The Texas Virtual Academy at Hallsville graduated 308 seniors from across the state June 7 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.
In August, Hallsville ISD opened the Texas Virtual Academy at Hallsville. The academy is an online public school for grades three through 12 open to any student in the state who attended a public school the previous year of enrollment.
John Martin, Hallsville ISD assistant superintendent, said the district tried to start a virtual school program in 2013, but it was unsuccessful, and the program was suspended.
Superintendent Jeff Collum said the district then entered a partnership with K12, a program that administers online education for public schools.
That relationship changed the game for Hallsville.
“We saw the opportunity for something that could be very beneficial,” Collum said. “It’s future thinking, it’s forward thinking. Online learning is part of what students are having to do today.”
When the virtual school opened in August, Collum said he was expecting 500 to 1,000 students. It ended with 5,641.
Collum said the district created a team of seven Hallsville employees to help run and administer the virtual school. The teachers are provided and hired by K12.
Julie Smith, director of the virtual academy, said students use programs such as Blackboard Collaborate and have schedules just like a brick and mortar school. The teachers are Texas certified instructors and use PowerPoint presentations, videos and other online tools to teach.
“We are a public school at home,” she said. “A lot of people think we’re a home school, but we’re not; we are a public school at home. Once they enroll with TVAH, they are part of our campus.”
Part of being a public school means State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness testing.
Smith said there are 37 testing sites around the state set up for virtual students to complete STAAR testing. K12 provides testing administrators and coordinators, and students complete the tests on computers.
There are many benefits to the program for the district, Collum said. One is additional funding.
Hallsville gets additional average daily attendance funding from the state for the virtual academy students, he said.
“Most of the funds go into funding the teacher salaries and the operational costs of K12 and then computers and programs, etc.,” Collum said. “K12 gets their administrative oversight share, and the district gets our share. They keep a majority of those dollars because they’re doing the majority of the work.”
By offering this virtual school, Martin said there are many types of students who benefit from the program.
“It benefits kids that possibly are needing to work a job, not because they want to, because they have to,” he said. “I think it benefits kids that maybe either socially or emotionally just didn’t fit in with a brick and mortar school.”
Smith said it also helps students with certain medical conditions who are not able to leave home to attend school.
Collum said the innovation of the virtual school is what really sets Hallsville ISD apart.
“We’re learning how to deliver online learning better than anyone else in the state right now,” he said. “That’s something to be proud of as a district.”