published Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

Tennessee's Virtual Academy likely to close next year

NASHVILLE — Tennessee's Virtual Academy will be able to admit new students this year, but it has been ordered to close next year unless it shows significant improvement.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman issued the mandate after he said Union County officials did not notify parents about an agreement that would have stopped the academy from taking 626 new students this year. The Union County School Board contracts with the for-profit K12 Inc. to operate the Virtual Academy in Tennessee.

Huffman told The Tennessean it would have been a burden on parents and students to have to make a last-minute change. Classes begin on Monday.

Instead of moving forward with an agreement reached late last month that would have stopped the school from taking on new students, Huffman ordered to academy to close at the end of the school year unless student test scores show dramatic gains.

Huffman said a turnaround is unlikely.

"This school is closed at the end of the coming school year," Huffman said. "The decision has been made . Parents should find different options for their children for the next school year.

"If somehow this school manages to defy the odds of its past performance and get adequate results, we would of course rescind that decision. That just makes sense. But there is nothing in their data from the first three years that would indicate to me they are going to be able to achieve that level of performance."

Union County Schools Superintendent Jimmy Carter says there's a "plan in place" to improve outcomes and he thinks the Virtual Academy will remain open.

He said first-year students have struggled, but students in their second and third years have met benchmarks.

"I'm happy with the way everything turned out," Carter said. "I'm happy we're going to be able to serve those kids."

Parent Angie Stadinger said she also was pleased with the outcome and shares Carter's confidence that the academy will have better results this year.

"All along, I've said it's about the children," Stadinger said. "As a parent and an educator, we have the right to choose what's good for our children. We are ready as a school to show the growth that the governor and the commissioner want to see."

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