K12: On the Brink of the 2020-21 School Year

Originally published in EdTech Digest – August 18, 2020

Kevin P. Chavous, President of Academics, Policy, and Schools, joined K12 in November 2017. He is a noted education reform leader and innovator with a well-chronicled track record of empowering families with education choice and driving change and opportunity for children of all backgrounds and circumstances.

Chavous has worked to advance quality education programs around the nation, most notably as the Education Committee Chair of the Council of the District of Columbia, where he helped to shepherd the charter school movement into the nation’s capital.

In addition, he was the founding Board President of Washington Latin Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. He has been instrumental in advancing charter school and education choice programs around the country.

He has also published four books, including Serving Our Children: Charter Schools and the Reform of American Public Education; Voices of Determination: Children that Defy the Odds; and Building a Learning Culture in America, as well as his first novel, The Plan, a political thriller. A prolific writer and speaker, Mr. Chavous’ opinion editorials have appeared in many major newspapers, and he has given education reform speeches in nearly every state.

He graduated from Wabash College, where he was an NCAA District All-American in basketball and was inducted into the Wabash Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016. He graduated from the Howard University School of Law, where he was president of his graduating class.

In this interview, he talks about our impending future, the value of online learning, what districts need to be prepared for right now, and what he sees as the keys to success in an online learning environment.

Just weeks ahead of the new school year, 51 million public school students and 3.7 million teachers sit on the brink. How would you characterize current times and the challenge(s) before us? 

At K12, our mission is to help students reach their full potential through inspired teaching and personalized learning. 

As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the lives and livelihoods of billions of people around the world, with schools closing their doors – potentially for months – that mission is more important than ever.

As an online education services provider, we are in a unique position to provide a stable, continuous learning environment for students during this time. The need for online learning options at the school and district level today will change the way America looks at education forever. And we know the general public is looking for this from their schools and districts now and will continue to do so in the future.

In a recent national survey of American parents of K-12 school-aged children: 77% of parents agree that online education would serve as a solution to addressing the educational value lost while schools close during the pandemic; 71% agree that online education should be an ongoing option after the pandemic subsides; and 85% agree that school districts should have an online backup plan even after students return to school. We’ve always maintained that distance learning technology is a key part of the way education will be delivered in the future. And the numbers above speak to this trend.

It appears as though your company has embarked on a hiring frenzy – could you tell us about this? 

At the full-time schools we support, we are working with our district partners and charter boards to ensure that we are able to serve as many students as possible without compromising our commitment to the academic success of each student we serve. We already work with more than 6,000 educators nationwide, who are specially trained to teach in the online classroom. And we recently announced that we are hiring more than 1,300 new educators for the new school year nationwide, for the full-time public schools and programs we support.

DELIVERING ON A PROMISE. We asked Kevin Chavous, President of Academics, Policy and Schools at K12: ‘As one of the nation’s leading providers of online and blended education, what can and can’t you provide in these challenging times? What sort of parameters are there in terms of expectations and promises when it comes to online (and blended) learning delivery?’ His answers:  

“K12-powered faculty and staff focus on delivering a rigorous, dynamic, and inspiring learning program for every student, every day,” says Chavous. According to Chavous, this includes:

__ A dedicated, state-credentialed, specially trained online teaching staff that provides live online sessions and tailored instruction to meet each learner’s unique needs.

__ An award-winning curriculum coupled with innovative technology.

__ A wide range of online social opportunities, including online clubs, e-gaming tournaments, and safe peer-to-peer virtual get-togethers.

__ Special education, tutoring and wraparound support to ensure a smooth transition from a traditional classroom to virtual schooling.

__ Career learning and education courses, or complete programs, that prepare students for success after high school whether that entails college, a career, or both.

__ Resources to help parents succeed as Learning Coaches including: lesson guides, videos, specially designed programming and resources, and opportunities to connect with other parents.

“To be successful, teachers and families need support and structure, especially in an online environment that is new to so many,” adds Chavous. “Keys for success are robust training and support for teachers and regular communication with parents, students, and staff.”

From your standpoint, how can quality and rigor be incorporated into a home-learning environment? What measures do you put in place to boost quality of learning? Seems a certain type of independently minded student would flourish in an online environment, while another type of student might fall through the cracks and not do so well as with in-person learning, but nowadays you might be getting both types as a flood of families turn to online. How do you help all students succeed? 

Teachers and families need support and structure—these are the keys to success in an online learning environment. We asked our network of 6,000 experienced online educators for tips we can share with teachers and families who are new to online learning. They told us:

Communication is key. Teachers and families should stay in contact with one another in whatever ways make sense for them – email, phone, live online sessions, virtual office hours, etc.

Stick to a schedule. Just like working from home, doing school from home will be most effective if you set aside times and places for focused learning and accountability.

Lean on each other for support. K12 and others with experience in online learning have made free content available to help teachers and parents navigate this new space.

We’re also talking with districts around the country to share from our experience so they can incorporate online learning options successfully.

As I mentioned, dedicated state-credentialed, specially trained online teaching staff provides live online sessions and tailored instruction to meet each learner’s unique needs. Each teacher participates in at least one of the industry’s most comprehensive professional development programs specifically built for online learning. This includes more than 175 hours of instruction when they begin teaching at a K12-powered school and incremental development opportunities every year.

I should also note that K12-powered teachers are trained to succeed in the online classroom and have access to ongoing professional development, including a Master’s in Education in Online Instruction from Southern New Hampshire University (for eligible roles).

What sort of measure of accountability do you have in place when it comes to metrics both internal and possibly external – that keep you pushing the quality envelope?

In addition to the high-standards above, I would like to note that at the public schools we support, students are held to the same standards as at any other public school, including taking required state assessments. In addition, K12-powered schools administer interim assessments at least three times during the school year to provide teachers with actionable, timely data to personalize instruction and accelerate a student’s path toward growth.

Families choose online school at home for a number of reasons. What are your thoughts choosing, the factors involved, and any political backlash that comes with the territory?

Our student success stories speak for themselves. K12-powered schools have sent graduates to two-year and four-year colleges across the country – including Ivy League schools and state colleges, top universities and community colleges. Graduates are also starting their own businesses, going to vocational and technical programs, and entering volunteer or military service. Students and alumni have included Olympic medalists, successful entrepreneurs and business owners, veterans and more.

Anything else you care to add or emphasize? 

Your readers need to know that online school works. K12 has more than 20 years of experience delivering online education to millions of students. We’re able to meet students where they are and offer personalized learning to students of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.

Districts need to be prepared to provide online learning solutions that meet the needs of their community. Whether that means starting the school year with 100% online capabilities, or offering a blended solution, K12 is here to help.

To learn more about K12, visit k12.com/

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