Kentucky Department of Education Associate Commissioner David Couch, center, discusses the Kentucky Education Technology System (KETS) operational plan for the upcoming school year at the Kentucky Board of Education meeting at Lake Cumberland on Aug. 3, 2022. He was joined by the department’s Chief Digital Officer, Marty Park, left, and Division Director Mike Leadingham, right. Photo by Jacqueline Thompson, Aug. 3, 2022
The Kentucky Board of Education held several discussions around online, virtual and remote learning during its regular meeting on Aug. 3, held at Lake Cumberland.
Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) Associate Commissioner David Couch, Chief Digital Officer Marty Park and Division Director Mike Leadingham discussed the Kentucky Education Technology System (KETS) operational plan for the 2022-2023 school year.
Couch told the board about $502 million in federal, state and local district funds that will be available this coming school year to address the education technology-enabled products and services for all 171 school districts and state schools (the Kentucky School for the Blind, Kentucky School for the Deaf and Area Technology Centers). This is the most that has ever been made available in the 30-year history of KETS.
KBE approved $15.4 million in funding for the KETS operational plan for the upcoming school year to provide basic technology-enabled services, expand technology, replace aging devices, enhance cybersecurity and recruit and retain the technology workforce that is needed.
“This is the most money we’ve ever had available for education technology going into the next school year,” said Couch.
Couch provided a handout showing students without access to technology in school and at home are less likely to gain 21st century learning skills. Kentucky schools are combatting this issue by providing students with more digital access.
Strong online skills, such as using shared digital workspaces, have been correlated with increased collaboration in the classroom, Couch’s handout showed. Students who have access to computers and the internet are more likely to use technology more frequently and have better technology skills.
Couch said Kentucky was “decades ahead” of other states when it came to connecting schools to the internet.
Currently, 100% of Kentucky schools provide Wi-Fi access to students. Of these, 99% of schools have implemented dense Wi-Fi networks capable of supporting a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative, which encourages students to use their personal devices in the classroom, or a 1 to 1 initiative, in which a school district provides a device for every student.
Couch also encouraged the board to continue to support future funding opportunities for education technology in order to avoid a drop off in access to this technology within Kentucky school districts.
“During your time as board members … the things we have done in Kentucky history, in national history, are pretty amazing,” he said.
Couch and Park later joined KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Equity Officer Thomas Woods-Tucker, and Chief Academic Officer Micki Ray to discuss the proposed regulation 704 KAR 3:535, which would create an option for full-time enrollment in online, virtual and remote learning programs for K-12 students.
The regulation requires the student’s guardian to request to participate in the program if a program is offered by the district. All districts have the option whether to offer a program. This option previously was offered only to grades 5 through 12 and the proposed regulation extends it to kindergarten through grade 4.
“I always say … [decide] what is your best education plan first, then lay technology on top of it,” said Couch.
Couch said there were some students during the COVID-19 pandemic who thrived in a remote and virtual setting. Going forward, he sees this continuing for approximately 1-2% of students.
“It’s not a huge percentage [of students], but it’s a pathway to the finish line for those students,” he said.
The proposed regulation creates a new definition for a full-time enrolled online, virtual and remote learning program: a public school district program that enrolls K-12 students on a full-time basis where teachers and students are not in the same physical location, and all or most of the instruction is provided online through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous strategies.
The proposed regulation also states that a full-time enrolled program shall not be classified as an alternative education program, and the placement of students in the program is voluntary.
The board approved the regulation and it will take 7-9 months to go into effect.
KBE Work Session
On Aug. 2, the day before the meeting, the board gathered for a work session to discuss how to reach its goals and prepare for the upcoming year.
KDE Chief Communications Officer Toni Konz Tatman helped the board become better prepared to communicate the United We Learn vision for the future of education in the Commonwealth to stakeholders. She closed her presentation by encouraging the board members to “always remember why you are doing this work.”
Board members also heard from KDE’s Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, Damien Sweeney, and Ray and Park on how virtual learning programs can address themes critical to social-emotional health and academic success.
Sweeney said virtual learning programs can provide “voice and choice” to students by creating a learning experience that is unique to a student’s needs.
Park introduced several special guests to the board from the Bullitt Virtual Learning Academy (BVLA) (Bullitt County), including BVLA Principal Danny Clemens, Instructional Coach Dominic McCamish and Bullitt County Assistant Superintendent Adrienne Usher. BVLA is a recently developed virtual school where students can decide where they would like to participate in remote learning.
Clemens said BVLA students are not isolated when they enroll in the virtual program. Students can participate in virtual field trips and in-person extracurricular activities like marching band, sports, academic team and prom.
BVLA students become college or career ready, and the flexibility of the virtual setting allows students to attend classes while simultaneously earning an associate degree.
Clemens said the virtual program is great for students in all situations, including those with medical needs, anxiety and other mental health needs, accelerated learners, and those who might struggle with learning in a traditional classroom.
In other business, the board:
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