Enrollment in Calhoun County schools rose this year and school board officials credit virtual schools with reversing a recent decline.
“This can be good for a population of kids we might have missed,” school board chairman Mike Almaroad said of the virtual school program.
Calhoun County Board of Education members heard the new enrollment numbers at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday. According to school staff, about 8,300 students were in county schools at the beginning of the school year, up about 50 from the same time last year. The school system has lost 200 to 300 students per year in recent years, school officials said.
School officials on Tuesday said the state’s new virtual school, which allows students to take online classes from home, helped reverse the trend. Roughly 80 students are enrolled in the online classes, which are taught by Calhoun County teachers and include “seat time” in the real world, when students need it, in classrooms at the county’s alternative school in Jacksonville.
“The alternative school teachers should be commended, because their workload has increased,” said Natasha Scott, the director of the program. School board members presented her with their “employee of the month” award at the Tuesday meeting.
Scott said the school appeals to students who have daytime obligations — including a seventh-grader who’s in training to become an Olympic gymnast and three students who are touring as competitive archers — as well as students with jobs or who suffer from social anxiety.
Twenty-one of the virtual school students were new to the school system, Scott said, and nine were planning to leave the system for homeschooling or private school before the virtual option became available.
The school board also gave its approval, without debate, to a change to the school system’s policy concerning registered sex offenders who want to attend school events.
State law prohibits sex offenders from “loitering” on campuses, but school systems have little power to block offenders who have children in a school system, if those offenders have business at the school.
Before Tuesday, the county’s policy required notification in writing 14 days before an event for any sex offender who wants to approach campus. The new policy requires only notification in advance, without a specific time requirement, though the offender must consent to monitoring by school officials while on campus.
“Our policy wasn’t consistent with what’s in state law, and it wasn’t consistent with some of the other school systems,” said schools Superintendent Joe Dyar.
School officials said that inconsistency has been a problem during past football seasons, when parents from other systems try to seek access to games.
The board agreed to convene Sept. 7, prior to an already scheduled budget hearing, to discuss finding a replacement for Dyar, who is set to retire Dec. 31.
Almaroad said the new superintendent would be selected by the new school board that will be seated after the Nov. 6 election, although the current board can start the process of seeking applicants.
“We’d be ahead of the game if we did that, so the new board won’t have to do that,” Almaroad said.
In other business, the school board:
— Honored Dr. Kathy McMinn, the 1980 Weaver High graduate who won seven individual SEC titles as a gymnast at the University of Georgia and was inducted in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame this year. McMinn is now a physician at an Atlanta hospital.
— Congratulated Alexandria High School’s fishing team for their state championship win.
— Announced the award of grant money from the Alabama Bicentennial Commission to several local schools for local projects, including a Weaver High plan to beautify a local stretch of the Ladiga Trail and a Wellborn High project to train students as docents for Freedom Riders National Monument.
— Accepted a $30,000 donation from Samco, the local convenience store chain.