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By Dave Rogers
For the Record 

WOC's Harris eyes online HS classes


Last updated 11/16/2021 at 6:17pm

To ease a teacher shortage, West Orange-Stark High School could shift to online classes for some of its upper level courses, Superintendent Dr. Rickie Harris said at Monday's school board meeting.

West Orange-Cove schools Superintendent Dr. Rickie Harris has offered a unique approach to deal locally with what he says is a nationwide shortage of teachers.

He told his board members Monday night that he is considering shifting the most qualified teachers at West Orange-Stark High School to instruct the younger grade 9 and 10 students.

That would leave juniors and seniors to go online to take some upper level classes like government, economics and English 3 and English 4, in learning labs set up on campus.

"I see a train coming at us, and why stand there and let it hit us?" Harris asked. "Let's try to get ahead of it.

"You guys see this as well as I do: The pool for teaching is not getting deeper. We are dealing with a teacher shortage all over the country, not just in Texas."

Harris said state education officials he's talked to like the idea and encourage him to try the strategy, especially since WOC is one of the state's Districts of Innovation, a designation created to encourage new ideas in education.

"We'll shift our certified teachers down to the 9th and 10th grades to make sure they get a better education," Harris explained. "Then when they get to the 11 and 12th grade years, we use our online platform as a form of delivering the instruction, more like what they do with college students."

West Orange-Stark has used an online platform called Edgenuity in the past to help students retake failed classes and recover credit needed to graduate, said Ashton Knox, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction who helped Harris research his proposal.

The school also has online platforms for after-school programs, dropout recovery programs, and its distinctive achievement program, Harris noted.

All the nation's school districts had to beef up their online capabilities and use "virtual" learning during the 2020-21 COVID-19 in-person school closures.

"If we have all these platforms we are paying millions of dollars for and we use them everywhere else, why in the world can we not use these with the students that are on pace?" Harris asked.

"And especially in these areas where we have long-term substitute teachers. If I can use these (online) platforms, I can guarantee the platforms are up to the rigor, whereas these long-term subs are not qualified teachers.

"If it (using online teaching) is good enough for all of those other areas, why isn't it good enough for all our students?"

The schools boss strongly stressed that people should understand his idea is as different from last year's stay-at-home "virtual learning" as night is from day.

For many, virtual learning was not a great learning experience.

"This is not like the virtual platform when they were at home," Harris said. "They'll be in the school, and the teachers are facilitating that instruction.

"Hopefully, with the better instruction at our lower levels, when they get to the upper levels our kids can handle the platform a lot better.

"That's the mindset. That's the idea.

"It will help us with our teacher shortages and also it will help prepare our kids for what the college experience is going to look like."

While board members asked only a few questions of Harris and Knox, Harris indicated he aims to try out the approach next spring, starting with upper level economics and government classes.

"We're going to try to start to shift that way in some of the classes," he said. "This spring with our economics and government classes, (the teacher) will still be there to facilitate the instruction if they have a module that's difficult.

"We have all this technology, so let's see what we can do to start to alleviate the situation within our district."

Monday night's meeting opened with great news:

The district earned a "superior" FIRST rating, which stands for Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas.

CPA Mitchell T. Fontenote of Port Neches followed that by presenting WOC an unmodified "clean" opinion – meaning no changes are necessary -- on its annual financial audit.

The district also reported the completion of a Spanish-language version of the student handbook.


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