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East Rowan’s Virtual Academy gets unanimous school board approval

SALISBURY — Chamya Rawls was overwhelmed.

After having a baby at 16 and while in her sophomore year in high school, Rawls was working two jobs, trying to make ends meet while caring for her child. She was also trying to balance that with a traditional high school education.

As she told the Rowan-Salisbury School Board Monday, “It’s hard to come to school and take care of a baby and manage everything else.” She considered dropping out of school so that she could focus on more immediate needs.

“But I didn’t want to be a stereotype, and I had to finish school for my daughter,” Rawls said as tears rolled down her cheeks. “I wanted to thank you for allowing me to finish school and get my diploma so that my daughter has some kind of example.”

Now 18, Rawls is on track to graduate this month and plans to attend Rowan-Cabarrus Community College for its radiography program. And she beamed as she talked about possibilities for her future.

“I really thought I would never graduate,” she said, adding that her success wouldn’t be possible without teachers that had supported her.

Rawls was one of several students Monday who spoke to the school board about the benefits of an online charter academy East Rowan High hopes to start with flexibility afforded through renewal. Others included Katelyn Green, 17, who said she’s also on track to graduate this month, has a full-time retail job and wouldn’t be in school if she wasn’t able to take online classes. Green plans to attend Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, transfer to a four-year school and pursue a career in the medical field after high school graduation.

Called the Virtual Academy at East Rowan High School, it would allow students to obtain their diploma entirely online or take some classes to compliment a traditional, in-person education. The Virtual Academy would start in the 2020-2021 school year and received unanimous support from school board members Monday with the caveat that board members would draft a policy addressing athletic participation for students.

East Rowan High Principal Tonya German told the school board that Rowan-Salisbury Schools currently is paying for 36 students to attend online charter schools, a number that’s been as high as 39 in recent months.

“We know there is a need, and this is another way for us to continue to be the educational hub in Rowan County and best serve students,” German said.

East Rowan also hopes to lure homeschoolers back to public school, provide 21st century solutions to education and serve parents and students seeking “alternative options,” German said. The program would be capped at 200 students in the first year.

She said that each student has their own personality and face their own challenges.

“All of them have one thing in common,” German said. “Virtual classes meet their needs.”

Board Member Jean Kennedy gave a short speech in which she spoke strongly in favor of the Virtual Academy, saying she didn’t need to be convinced it was a good idea, “but if anybody does (have questions), they shouldn’t now.”

Questions came from newly appointed Vice Chair Travis Allen, who said the school board needed to set boundaries about athletic participations. German agreed, saying the board didn’t necessarily need to enact a policy Monday, but it should do so before applications are accepted for the Virtual Academy.

Superintendent Lynn Moody, echoing state recommendations, offered that a student who takes a majority of his or her classes at East Rowan would have to participate in Mustang athletics. The state allows local boards of education to set athletic participation policies, German said. Moody said staff could bring a policy proposal to the board’s next meeting.

Addressing other questions, Moody said Rowan-Salisbury Schools could transport students as needed to their nearest high school to participate in Virtual Academy assignments.

In addition to Allen on Monday, the Rowan-Salisbury School Board picked Kevin Jones to be its next chairman. Jones, who in 2018 won a seat on the school board, is a business owner who previously served on the Spencer Board of Aldermen.

Josh Wagner, who was chairman until Monday, said he was ready to pass the chairman’s gavel because he’s got a year left on his term and doesn’t intend to run again. Being chairman takes up more time than he’s able to commit with his job, Wagner said.

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