A troubled virtual school in Baton Rouge, where many students have missed weeks of instruction, has added teachers but is not expecting to fill all vacancies until the end of next week.
Continued problems at EBR Virtual Academy dominated discussion at Thursday’s East Baton Rouge Parish School Board meeting.
“As it stands right now, for me, it is unacceptable to see and know that we are in October and that we have students that are not fully staffed, including our virtual school,” board member Dadrius Lanus said.
Friday was the first day of school for Karen Cashio’s grandson Riley.
More than 1,300 children transferred this year to the EBR Virtual Academy, the lone home for online instruction this year for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. It’s a school that grew dramatically in size right before the school year started on Aug. 11.
Problems have been particularly pronounced in middle and high school grades, in which many students weren’t in class until after Labor Day.
The board had a similar debate on Sept. 16, which ended promises to fully staff the school quickly, promises that came and went unfulfilled.
At least one student didn’t start any classes until Oct. 1, according to the child’s grandmother.
East Baton Rouge is hiring a small portion of the faculty in the upper grades, but the district is relying on Austin, Texas-based Proximity Learning for the bulk of its staff.
Daphne Donaldson, chief of human resources for the school system, said that both the district and Proximity are hiring simultaneously for the virtual school. She listed six teaching vacancies that East Baton Rouge is filling.
"We still have some vacancies at the virtual academy as we are facing vacancies as we are across the district," Donaldson said.
Ted Robinson, a representative with Proximity, said that in the past two weeks the number of vacancies his company has shrunk from 36 to 13 and he said his goal is to fill those by the end of the next week
“We are working feverishly to fill those 13 vacancies,” Robinson said.
Lanus said he sympathizes with Proximity’s problems given the nationwide teaching shortage, but said that’s why the school system contracted with the company.
"I understand it's hard, but we contracted with you because it's hard,” he said.
Robinson said that the company was told it needs to staff for far fewer students and has scrambled to catch up. He also said that the company has been trying hard to fill vacancies with its other clients across the country, even turning down new jobs as a result.
“We are not taking on new clients,” Robinson said.
Besides staffing, there’s the issue of catching up children who’ve missed instruction. Robinson and school officials say they are talking about adding tutoring and perhaps special weekend sessions to help catch students up.
Donaldson said the virtual school has been trying to do a lot from scratch quickly.
"This year it was not perfect,” she said. “We’ve established that, right? I do believe that moving forward this is the future.”
Superintendent Sito Narcisse said he’s spoken to other superintendents who decided not to set up virtual schools because it would be difficult, but he decided it was the best way to go.
“We took the challenge, even though it's been a challenge we've been working through those kinks," Narcisse said. "I still think we've done the right thing for our community."