Tennessee families fighting to keep school open because it’s demonstrating positive outcomes for children
Nashville, Tenn., March 10, 2015 – PublicSchoolOptions.org (PSO) today said a review of the history of Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA) reveals a school that overcame difficult early years and achieved significant academic outcomes over the past year for its 1,300 children. The public school has been ordered to close at the end of this year by the state Department of Education, despite the department’s own data that shows the school has made real academic progress from 2013 to 2014, and students enrolled in TNVA in their second and third years are making positive academic gains.
“It’s understandable that TNVA had a difficult first year as administrators, teachers, parents and students experienced a new school model,” said Beth Purcell, president of PSO, a national alliance of parents that supports and defends parents’ rights to access the best public school options for their children.
“Since then, school leaders have worked incredibly hard and made dramatic changes that have resulted in substantial improvements,” she said. “From 2013 to 2014, TNVA improved its outcomes across the board and showed strong progress, yet former Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and department bureaucrats ignored their own data and ordered the school to be closed at the end of the current school year. Only by calculating a meaningless three-year average can they justify calling TNVA a ‘failing school.’ What matters is where the school is today – and TNVA’s outcomes show the school is making real progress and moving in the right direction.”
More than 100 other schools across Tennessee have the exact same three-year Level 1 rating as TNVA; however, not one of those schools was ordered by Huffman to close. TNVA was the only school singled out for closure, despite being one of the fastest improving public schools in the state. PSO is working with local Tennessee parents to fight the closure and is hopeful Gov. Haslam will step in to help TNVA students who are now thriving in an online school environment.
“We have great respect for Gov. Haslam and hope he can help these families that deserve to be treated fairly,” Purcell said. “Even former Commissioner Huffman stated last year that students who had been in TNVA for two or three years were making real, measurable academic gains. The only way the Department of Education could possibly maintain its story that TNVA is a failure is to deliberately ignore the positive outcomes the school has made over the past year. We simply won’t allow this to happen and are preparing to take steps to protect these children and their school. The children at TNVA are public school students, too, and should be treated fairly and equally.”
Tennessee PSO parent leader Holly Wooten said she takes issue with those who say TNVA is a failing school.
“Our children are so proud of their school and the progress they’re making,” Wooten said. “TNVA is changing lives, but bureaucrats are basically saying that means nothing. The state should not ignore the success this school has made over the past year. It appears department officials aren’t interested in hearing from parents. I simply cannot understand why anyone would want to shut down a school that parents want for their children, and one that made some of the biggest academic gains over the past year of any school in Tennessee.”
TNVA is a public school run by Union County Public Schools and ultimately reports to the elected Union County school board. TNVA faces several challenges serving a higher percentage of special education and low-income students than the state average. Fifteen percent of TNVA students receive special education services and 74 percent of its families qualify for free/reduced lunches, according to Union County.
TNVA is the state’s only full-time, K-8 statewide online public school. For many families it is the lone public school that fits the needs of their children. Last month, hundreds of students and educators descended on the state Capitol to express their support for protecting the right of parents to choose the school that works best for their children.
There are 1,300 unique students and 1,300 unique stories as to how and why TNVA is working to meet student and family needs – students who are excelling or who are far behind; students with significant and, in some cases, debilitating or even life-threatening illnesses; students who have been threatened or bullied; students with special needs, including many students with autism, who find it difficult to achieve in a traditional classroom.