Avoyelles High trying remote instruction

Three math classes taught by teacher many miles away

Faced with no certified math teachers to fill a vacancy at Avoyelles High, the Avoyelles Parish School Board found a “win-win” solution.

“Distance learning” or “televised teaching” has been around for a few decades now, but it has never been part of a regular class instruction in Avoyelles Parish schools.

In mid-February, Avoyelles High became the first local public school to have students taught by a teacher located many miles away.

The live, but remote, teaching arrangement is the district’s answer to an inability to find a math teacher for the second semester.

Rather than go the usual route of hiring a long-term substitute to handle Avoyelles High’s 8th grade math and 9th grade Algebra I classes, the School Board decided to contract with Chicago-based Elevate K-12.

Elevate K-12 provides a live teacher who is connected to the local classroom by video. An aide monitors the class to ensure students stay on task.

The company also provides the equipment needed to make the program work.

“Each student has an individual device so they can virtually raise their hand and talk to the teacher,” APSD Secondary Education Supervisor Dexter Compton said. “They view the teacher on a larger screen but she can talk to them through their earphones individually or speak to the entire class.”

The contract with Elevate is for a teacher to teach one section of 8th grade math and two sections of Algebra I for $52,000 for the second semester.

During those class periods, the Elevate teacher is only teaching the Avoyelles High students. She isn’t dividing her attention with several other schools. Also, it will be the same teacher every day -- not a “luck of the draw” from a pool of online teachers.

For those three periods, the Elevate teacher is virtually an APSD employee -- and also a “virtual employee.”

Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said this allows the high school to place a certified, highly qualified teacher in the classroom rather than a substitute teacher who would probably not be certified and may not have a college degree.

“Of course, we would prefer to have an in-person quality teacher in the classroom with the students,” Compton said. “The school districts we have talked to that are using this program say it is a good option to have.”

Compton said this live-feed class is better than other online education programs because there is an immediate response between teacher and student. It is not a pre-recorded lecture nor is it a “learn at your own pace” written lesson plan.

The televised teacher will not replace the need for temporary substitutes when teachers are out for a day or two, but it could be an alternative to long-term substitutes when teachers have serious illnesses, injuries or take maternity leave.

“If this is as effective as we expect it will be, we may look at using it again in the future,” Compton said.

‘BEST I’VE SEEN’

AHS Principal Mike Rachal was skeptical at first but is now a believer.

“I have tried several online programs in the past, and this is the best I’ve seen,” Rachal said. “It’s not just a kid sitting in front of a computer. There is two-way communication between the teacher and a student -- and it’s quality instruction.”

Rachal said he personally hopes he does not have to use the Elevated program again “because nothing beats having a qualified teacher in the classroom. A student can’t build a relationship with a teacher on a screen.”

However, in reality he expects he will have to rely on the televised teacher in the future “until they start graduating math teachers. Math teachers are very hard to find.”

Rachal said the Elevate teacher “is not a silver bullet, but it puts my mind a little more at ease knowing I have this option to provide a qualified teacher for our students.”

Rachal said he has asked several students for their opinion on the Elevate program.

“They are more encouraged about it than I am,” he said. “As an adult, I was a bit skeptical. They are more used to technology and seem to like it.”

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