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2,050 enroll in district’s virtual K-8 school

By Carl Blankenship

SALISBURY — About 2,050 students have signed up for the new Rowan-Salisbury Schools virtual school after enrollment closed Friday afternoon.

The K-8 option drew a strong response since enrollment opened on July 6. Four days into the enrollment period, 700 had signed up, and the district realized it might need to increase its soft cap of 1,000 students. RSS Superintendent Lynn Moody said enrollment was up to 1,800 students by Thursday. The district has about 18,000 students.

The school is the largest in the district by far. The next-largest school by enrollment, Carson High School, had 1,291 students at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. However, the K-8 represents nine grades to a high school’s four. The next highest enrollment was West Rowan High School at 1,071.

About 1,200 elementary students enrolled and 850 middle school students signed up. Elementary schools have grades K-5 while a traditional middle school has grades 6-8.

Amy Pruitt, director of Horizons Unlimited and virtual school principal, attributed the relatively high rate of middle school enrollment to parents being able to leave older children at home without child care. She said staff members are finalizing enrollment by addressing application issues, so there was no exact count immediately after registration closed.

Pruitt said the district eventually expected a large enrollment after seeing similar results in other districts.

Moody said the district is asking virtual students for a one-year commitment, and changing schools during the year will follow the same process for moving between traditional schools.

Moody advised the RSS Board of Education to approve moving forward with the school because there is a demand for the option, and surrounding districts are providing similar choices.

How exactly virtual students will be fed is up in the air, though district Nutrition Director Lisa Altmann has outlined the possibility of meal pickup locations and trying to accommodate students who are unable to handle pickup. Virtual students, along with all the traditional students in the district, will eat free.

Pruitt said she has wanted a virtual option for students for some time. East Rowan High School launched a virtual academy last year, and high school students were given virtual enrollment options for this year. N.C. Connections Academy is a virtual charter school that opened in 2015, and districts have been working more virtual learning into their teaching for the past few years.

Pruitt said she knew a virtual school was a possibility and has been working with innovation coach Amie Caudle to interview local teachers for the school. The school is expected to be an ongoing option, not just a special project for this school year.

Pruitt said she would be worried if she was not part of a strong team and a district that embraces challenge.

“We’re working toward doing a lot of troubleshooting on the front end to prevent it being a hardship or having too many difficulties for our families and our students,” Pruitt said.

RSS already hosted elearning days a few times a year before the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed public education. RSS is also a 1:1 district, meaning every student is issued a computing device.

The rest of students enrolled with the district will return to classes in August. The official start date is Aug. 17, but only half the traditional students will arrive at schools that day.

Gov. Roy Cooper made a decision on Tuesday to require a mix of virtual and in-person instruction as a baseline for public school districts, meaning districts could opt for more restrictive options like going all-virtual, but could not lessen the restrictions and send students to classes full time.

RSS administration already decided if Cooper chose that option, plan B, students would return to school on an A and B day schedule. Half of students will attend classes in person Monday and Tuesday. The other half will attend Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be a planning day with no in-person instruction.



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