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Virtual school a limited option for next year in Gentry

Parent survey indicates little interest in continuing virtual option by Randy Moll | April 6, 2021 at 8:20 a.m.

GENTRY -- Students in the Gentry School District will have limited options should they choose to attend school virtually rather than in-person next fall.

The school board at its March 29 meeting approved pursuing options with Virtual Arkansas to provide online instruction for students in grades 7-12. Students would remain a part of the Gentry Public School system, but the district would pay Virtual Arkansas $3,000 per student enrolled in the Virtual Arkansas program of instruction and Virtual Arkansas would provide the curricula and teachers. The school district receives approximately $7,000 per student in state funding.

For students in grades kindergarten through grade six, no virtual option is being pursued. The Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative is working on a curriculum and instruction but the district is not pursuing that option at the present time, according to Terrie Metz, district superintendent.

Christie Toland, the assistant superintendent, said the younger children need to be in the classrooms with their teachers.

Metz explained that the district cannot pull a teacher from the classroom for four virtual students and said the district really wants students back on-site for instruction. Metz said the state will not permit a teacher to be used for both virtual and on-site instruction next year as it did this year.

The decision was based in part on a survey sent out to parents asking for input on their desires for next year. According to Toland, the numbers requesting online instruction next year were very low, only about 30 students total in grades K-12.

Another possible factor in the decision was the number of students who started out the current year with virtual instruction but were transitioned back to onsite instruction because they were failing to keep up with the course material.

In other business, the board unanimously approved offering contracts to teachers for the upcoming school year. It also accepted resignations due to the announced retirements of Darla Wilson, Gentry Middle School; Brent Harrison, Gentry Primary School; Shari Riley, Gentry Primary School; Deborah Allred, Gentry Primary School Nurse.

Also approved was a partnership with Northwest Technical Institute to provide a diesel mechanics class. NTI will provide the instructor and keep equipment up to date, as well as recruit students. With the partnership, Gentry would become a satellite of the Institute.

The board was informed that the state would allow the district to use a maximum of 10 alternative methods of instruction days in the next school year. The AMI instruction could include assignments on the school district Chromebooks or the use of Choice Boards.

Jason Barrett, transportation and facilities supervisor, reported that the school district, in partnership with the city of Gentry, was receiving 23 new trees to be planted on its campuses through the Walton Family Foundation tree grant program. He said the pine trees in front of the high school had been removed and new trees would be planted there, as well as in locations on all the campuses.

Toland, in her director's report, told the board of the following district accomplishments:

1. All five certified nurse aide students, trained by Nurse Lonnie Moll through a partnership with Northwest Arkansas Community College, passed state tests and are now state-licensed CNAs;

2. Clancy Milam won the Tech Support Olympiad at this year's EAST Conference;

3. Joni Wilson was chosen as the AHSCA Outstanding Cheer Coach of the Year;

4. The GHS Robotics Team, coached by Jordan Toland, got invited to the State Robotics Tournament in Hot Springs for the first time;

5. Jamie Johnson's edible cell lesson had great results at the Middle School;

6. Aaron Reed (4th-grade student) won state wrestling this year; and

7. Leah Queen and Gentry students raised $8,302.64 for the American Heart Association-Kids Heart Challenge event in February.

Students from the robotics class and from the e-sports program were on hand to talk about the successes of the two programs. Both are coached by Jordan Toland.

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