Starting in the 2018-19 school year, Blount County Schools plans to begin offering new options to students through three virtual academies.

The new E-LINC program—Electronic Learning Intended for Nontraditional Classrooms — is the latest effort to personalize instruction for every student, both supplementing on-campus programs and offering off-campus alternatives.

“This is mainly a planning year,” explained Justin Ridge, who became the district’s new coordinator of innovative and alternative programs in May.

“It’s a broad job description,” explained Jennifer Moore, supervisor of secondary education.

STAGE Academy

Part of Ridge’s role is succeeding Danny Galyon, who recently retired as principal of the alternative school on the Everett campus.

“We’re still maintaining that program as is for now,” Ridge said, to serve students who have had behavioral problems.

“The alternative program here has done some great things for students and will continue to do that,” he said.

But soon students there will have access to the new STAGE Academy.

The School of Technologically Accelerating Graduation at Everett will give students in grades 10-12 an option for quickly completing the requirements for a state diploma and moving on to postsecondary options. A BCS diploma requires more than the state diploma.

STAGE is designed for students for whom the traditional classroom setting is not working. They may have fallen far behind on earning credits or need a flexible school schedule because of other responsibilities.

“Often we didn’t see those kids until they ended up at a truancy hearing or ended up dropping out,” said Ridge, who served as an assistant principal and athletic director at William Blount High School before taking the newly created position.

“Our graduation rate is great, but we can make it better by paying attention to kids who have been struggling in the academic setting,” he said. In the 2015-16 school year, BCS had a 92.8 percent graduation rate, according to state Department of Education data.

“All of our programs are going to be rigorous,” he said, preparing students to move on to postsecondary opportunities, ready for college and careers.

A counselor will work with every student to map out a plan for completing graduation requirements. “Every kid who comes into that academy will need a different plan,” he said.

Early College

Students across BCS in grades 9-12 will have an opportunity to go further, accelerate their learning and possibly even complete an associate’s degree while graduating from high school through the Early College Academy, an online option.

Ridge noted there are many ways to earn college credit during those high school years, including Advanced Placement courses, dual credit courses and dual enrollment.

The Early College Academy will be open to students in William Blount and Heritage high schools, as well as students participating in a “virtual academy.”

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Home school option


Blount Virtual Academy will offer online options for students in grades 3-12, for both students in the district’s schools and as a home-school option.

“We can provide support that you may not get with other home-school options,” Ridge said. For example, teachers will be in charge of every class and hold virtual office hours.

“We see a benefit of having an expert in each subject matter in charge,” he said, with certified teachers providing instruction.

The Virtual Academy is designed to supplement programs for students enrolled in BCS too. For example, students in sixth and seventh grades might be able to take Algebra I online while remaining in their middle schools.

“Our goal is high-quality instruction, high-quality learning,” Ridge said.

As the BCS 1:World initiative provides a computer to every student, that opens new ways to deliver instruction that can be paced for each student.

Education Reporter

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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