Faced with declining graduation rates, Southwood High School in Louisiana enlisted its then Assistant Principal Tyron Lacy to create an online credit recovery program that would allow students to recover credits so they could graduate on time.
As a result, Southwood’s graduation rates went “through the roof,” says Lacy, who later facilitated the district-wide expansion of the program.
That program has now been up and running for over 10 years, and has expanded to offer initial credit and summer school options for Caddo School District students. After seeing how online courses can help students, Lacy decided to offer more options for Louisiana students, and in the summer of 2016, he opened the Caddo Virtual Academy (CVA).
By implementing personalized learning in a virtual school model, Caddo School District is reaching more students, and helping them achieve success.
Now, barely three years after CVA was founded, it’s an A+ school and was recently given the Top Gains Honoree Award. But this success wasn’t by accident.
Lacy, now the principal of CVA, emphasizes the strategic, data-driven decisions he and his team made to create this powerful learning environment.
“We were purposeful in the things that we did. We didn’t just throw it in the air and hope it worked,” Lacy said.
They used strategic hiring practices to ensure students have quality instructors, and fostered relationships with local universities to provide students access to dual-enrollment courses, as well as AP® classes and SAT®/ACT® prep courses.
This level of care and attention to detail contributes to the success of the independent high school, which functions exactly like any other school in the district. And unlike other virtual schools across the country that act as alternative programs within traditional high schools, CVA has its own campus, extracurricular activities, and even PTA, which helped get some of the first parents on board with this new program.
“All students learn differently, and every environment is not good for every student. [But] with proper support, students can achieve at their own rate.”
When students first enroll in CVA, they go through a series of questions to set up an individualized graduation plan based on their specific needs.
In fact, “We make it personal!” is the school’s motto, emblazoned on their website and at the core of all they do.
“All students learn differently, and every environment is not good for every student,” says Lacy, who believes that, “with proper support, all students can achieve at their own rate.”
Teachers customize their courses to match the Louisiana Department of Education’s requirements while also pushing the students to think critically and not just blow through their assignments.
With students ranging from those who are academically gifted and looking for a challenge to those needing asynchronous schedules due to demanding extracurricular activities to those who have been traditionally homeschooled, CVA’s unique hybrid format provides support, structure, and plenty of student-teacher interaction.
“Even though we’re an online school, the majority of our students come to school every day,” says Lacy. “I think it’s the personal touch.”
Unlike some online schools where students receive minimal personal interaction, CVA students get support immediately from their teachers as they complete their coursework.
This feedback is available online through messaging or video streaming, and teachers are also available for office hours.
This personalized learning in a virtual school helps students to “see the passion behind our educators,” which in turn “builds a culture of excellence that students want to be around,” says Lacy.
Additionally, students are required to attend weekly live lectures from their teachers either virtually or in person.
“It’s just like a normal class,” Lacy says. “Teachers take roll, ask interactive questions, break students into groups,” and present the topics students will cover that week.
Then, students have the rest of the week to complete their coursework in Edgenuity® at their own pace. “No student is left behind, but no student has to wait either,” says Lacy, and he points out that the coursework is rigorous enough that no one is ever significantly ahead of the teacher.
As word spreads of their unique model, support structures, and student success, enrollment at CVA has tripled. Seniors have been awarded millions in scholarships and are earning college credit, and students who had previously struggled are now graduating on time.
The district is taking notice of their success, and considering ways to provide additional space and support for the increasing number of students electing to enroll.
“I’m excited about what we’re able to do for families and students,” says Lacy, as he continues to dream of bigger and better ways to enable student success through the use of technology.