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Here are 5 things to know about Knox County's new virtual school

"Florida Virtual School" is a well-established program with hundreds of thousands of students, but it has run into trouble in recent years.

Knox County Board of Education members voted Wednesday to approve a contract with a virtual learning provider, Florida Virtual School, 8-1. The contract can cost up to $3 million. 

Here are five things you need to know about the provider and the program: 

1. Knox Co. may not need to use it as much as it planned

At Wednesday's Board of Education Meeting, KCS assistant superintendent Jon Rysewyk said the district was able to find local instructors to teach most of the more than 18,000 virtual learners. 

At this point, KCS needs 311 class slots (roughly 1.4 percent of online classes) to be filled by Florida Virtual School. Administrators said that could bring the cost down to roughly $300,000 from $1.5 - 3 million in the contract the board approved. 

The district will use Florida Virtual School for high school credit- level classes only, a spokesperson also said. 

2. Other Tennessee Districts use this same virtual school

Credit: WBIR
Screengrab of Florida Virtual School brochure.

Loudon County schools uses Florida Virtual School for about 700 students. In Oak Ridge, 766 students from kindergarten to eighth grade use the program, spokespeople for the department said. 

Metro Nashville Schools also examined a contract with the company to provide virtual learning to the entire district, which is starting classes entirely online through Sept. 7. 

RELATED: Knox County Board of Education approves contract with Florida Virtual School

3. Florida Virtual Schools has run into problems recently

A November 2019 Florida Board of Education presentation described problems the school as "plagued in recent years with recurring leadership crises that threatened to destabilize what was otherwise a school with high quality educators, curriculum and innovative online course delivery." 

It cited specific incidents, like a massive 2018 data breach which the company warned may have impacted records of nearly 370,000 students and teachers.

However, at the Florida board meeting, members expressed confidence in the school's new CEO and moved toward approving recommendations to improve the administration of the program.

4. Tennessee teachers will be preferred

At Wednesday's Knox County Board of Education meeting, administrators said the district has been working with the state Department of Education to ensure all teachers from Florida Virtual School are licensed to instruct in Tennessee. 

Administrators said the virtual program would attempt to hire Tennessee-licensed teachers. If needed, they told Board members the state has agreed to work to form "reciprocity licenses" with other states.

"We have Tennessee certified teachers on staff and we’ll look to hire as needed or get the certifications as needed," Florida Virtual School Sr. Director for Partner Services Courtney Calfee said. 

A spokesperson for Florida Virtual School said all its teachers are certified.  

5. Students pace themselves, but teachers are available live

While there is a schedule, students can go through the online platform as fast as they want. However, they are still assigned a class with a specific teacher who can help them if they have questions, Calfee said. 

"If you want a student to learn, the only way to do that it’s not going to be a program, it’s not going to be a computer it’s going to be working with an instructor that knows the content and can help the student through it," she said. 

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