Teachers at Baker High School will join those at Eagle Cap Innovative High School in relying on the Acellus online learning platform to help bring lessons to their students through comprehensive distance learning this fall.
Thomas Joseph, Eagle Cap principal, and Greg Mitchell, principal at BHS, presented the program that has been in use at both schools in recent years to members of the Baker School Board through a Zoom meeting Thursday night.
Mitchell said he’s seen improvements in the program’s appeal to students and staff since he was hired as BHS principal in 2016. He and Joseph attended a required workshop in Kansas City in 2019 to learn more about the program.
“They are continually changing the curriculum and updating materials,” Mitchell said.
Joseph explained how the online system, which he said is used in 4,200 schools across the U.S., provides help for administrators and staff as well as appealing to students.
As an example, he presented a video showing how the Acellus platform helps students with their writing by providing an interactive tutoring system as they do their work. For misspelled words, students are directed to a dictionary to look up the word and then type in the correct spelling rather than the computer automatically filling it in for them. In the case of grammatical errors, students receive a grammar lesson and then have the opportunity to improve their writing by making corrections.
By providing students help with the mechanics of writing, the online system allows more time for teachers to spend with them on idea development and writing a thesis, Joseph said.
Instruction is available at all levels, from advanced to a slower-paced lower level for students needing more help and also for students in special education classes, he said.
Last spring Acellus pared the curriculum to the bare essentials allowed by the state, and students still were able to meet standards to earn credit for their courses, Joseph said.
Through its diagnostic program, Acellus is designed to identify specific deficiencies in a student’s understanding of core concepts and to respond with “customized personal support” for each student when they need it, Joseph and Mitchell said. The principals and teachers also are notified of these issues.
Joseph said that at Eagle Cap, once he receives such a notification, he is able to pull his paraprofessional staff in to work with the students who are struggling.
Mitchell said Acellus also helps students who are spending extended time on a specific task without making progress.
“The system will adapt to keep them going,” he said.
And teachers are able to add their own lessons to the courses, Mitchell said.
He said his staff, if the curriculum is available in their subject areas, will use the Acellus platform as their textbook.
“I’ve asked that they use this as their base and supplement it with their lessons,” he said.
In addressing plans for all Baker schools to begin comprehensive distance learning on Sept. 8, Superintendent Mark Witty noted that there will be opportunities for limited in-person instruction for specific students beginning later in September.
“First we’ll make sure we get comprehensive distance learning up and going well and then we’ll look at small groups coming in,” he said.
The District must continue to work with the local health authorities in that regard to ensure that there have been no COVID-19 cases among the staff or students involved for the last 14 days, Witty said.
The limited in-person instruction will range from one-on-on sessions with students in special education to small groups of no more than 10 English language learners, career and technical education students learning hands-on skills such as welding, and those working toward college credit or studying advanced placement courses.
They will be limited to a maximum of 2 hours per session and may only be exposed to up to two cohorts, including while being transported.
Witty said the District’s ability to provide in-person learning in Grades 7-12 under new metrics for schools in sparsely populated counties might be hampered by another provision of the state rules that require that “students cannot be part of any single cohort or part of multiple cohorts that is greater than 50 people.”
That will be easy for the District to accomplish for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, who are in self-contained classrooms, Witty said. But at the secondary level, depending on how the term cohort is defined, that could be “very challenging,” he said.
At this point, a typical BHS student would come in contact with about 105 students, Witty said. Those at Baker Middle School would have contact with 75 to 80 students.
Witty said he believes the term cohort describes a group of students in the same location for an extended period of time, as in a classroom, rather than those who might simply be passing each other in the hallway.
“It does impact our plan,” he said of understanding the state’s intent.
If that requirement of cohorts of 50 cannot be met, middle school and high school students would be required to continue online classes rather than moving to in-person instruction when COVID-19 conditions improve in the county, he said.
“We just got the new metrics at the beginning of the week,” Witty said Friday. “We need more time to study this.”
In other business Thursday night, the Board:
•Approved the resignation of Shannon Streeter, fiscal assistant in the District Office.
• Approved the resignations of Joy LeaMaster, BHS library director/guidance; and Holly Miller, Brooklyn Primary kindergarten teacher.
• Approved a leave of absence for Kelsey Lehman, Brooklyn Primary kindergarten teacher.
• Approved the hiring of Chris Young to teach sixth grade and Hailey Kendrick to teach fourth grade at South Baker Intermediate School.
• Learned that Donald Everson, BMS instructional assistant, resigned from his classified employee position.
• Learned that more families are behind in registering their students for classes this year than in the past. Witty said that in past years about 90 percent have registered by this time.
“It will require a lot of calling and leg work to get registration done,” he said.