Christian County Public Schools Superintendent Chris Bentzel hosted a media discussion Friday. Transparency was the main topic of discussion.
“That’s a big push for us and for me for the first year,” Bentzel said. “A positive rebrand of how we do business, education wise.”
As COVID-19 is constantly shifting school and city plans, Bentzel said he wants to be sure the district is staying as transparent as possible with each decision. The Christian County Board of Education voted last week to return to in-person instruction.
Those parents who do not wish to send their students back to in-person instruction can choose to utilize the Virtual Learning Academy. As previously reported in the New Era, the VLA is its own school and does not utilize non-traditional instructional days.
Parents have until the end of July to register for the VLA. There is currently over 1,100 students enrolled in the VLA. Around 25 of those students were previously homeschooled but have taken advantage of the VLA.
Bentzel said enrollment has been pretty even between schools and grades. The virtual school is not limited to only use during the pandemic.
Bentzel said when the pandemic ends, the VLA will stick around. Creating the VLA is part of the district’s plan to move forward in the digital age and take care of the students of Christian County.
It’s also part of the district’s goal of focusing on the whole child, not just grades and average daily attendance. For instance, if a student refuses to wear a mask during in-person instruction, Bentzel said they wouldn’t make it a discipline problem.
Instead, they will sit down with the student and talk to them.
“That’s when administrators have to administrate,” he said.
Bentzel said the administrators need to find the root of the problem. The student could just be having a bad day and need to take a break in the office.
“It’s about the whole child,” he said. “It’s not a data number, it’s not a (average daily attendance) money number. It’s a whole child and what’s best for kids.
“It’s loving on them and taking care of them. And then educating them of course.”
The superintendent said his main priority right now is to get kids back to school and make sure they are OK.
The CARES Act gave the district the funds necessary to catch up with the current digital trends. Bentzel said the district is more prepared for NTI this time around if cases spike in schools or the governor releases a mandate.
“We bought everybody a laptop,” he said. “We bought online learning management systems.”
The district is utilizing the learning platform Canvas, which CARES Act funds helped purchase. The district is training teachers to use Canvas in class, with NTI and through the VLA.
“It’s important to know that we’re going to use those laptops in class when we’re in the traditional model,” Bentzel said. “It’s called a blended learning model, just like you would use in college.”
As far as protocols if a student or staff member contracts COVID-19, Bentzel said the district has worked with the Christian County Health Department on guidelines. Each instance will be different, and the district will rely on health professionals if a case arises.
At the end of the day, school will happen. If a school needs to shut down in-person instruction due to the virus, that school will shift to NTI.
“I really hope it doesn’t happen at the beginning of the year,” Bentzel said. “Because it’s hard to meet your teacher for the first time, in kindergarten, online.”
Bentzel noted that he and the district as a whole will continue to focus on relationship-based instruction no matter what the pandemic forces on the schools.
“We are diligently preparing for NTI,” he said. “At some point, if it happens, we’ll be ready to go. We have to be. This is our new normal.”
Reach Jon Russelburg at 270-887-3241 or email@example.com.