DALEVILLE – As the authorizers of the Indiana Virtual School and the Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, the Daleville Community Schools board of trustees on Monday voted unanimously to recommend revocation of their charters.
Daleville Superintendent Paul Garrison said the recommendation was made based on a variety of factors. They include exponential growth that prevented best management practices, an unusually large population of students with a variety of challenges that slowed their ability to graduate and possible deceit by administrators.
“We are disappointed that we find ourselves at this place, but our primary concern is and always has been, doing what's in the best interest of students. Once it became clear that there was a pattern of noncompliance by both schools, we were compelled to act swiftly and decisively," he said.
Lora Feeser, principal at both schools, could not be reached for comment.
Indiana Virtual School was established in 2012, the first year it was possible. Garrison said Daleville jumped at the opportunity because it allowed traditional students to have access to additional courses for which the district otherwise would not have had the resources.
“What it gave Daleville students was over 90 courses we could give our kids online. We couldn’t hire a teacher for many of the courses that they offered,” he said.
Now in its second year, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy was established as an alternative school that would provide vocational training and more special education interventions and wraparound services.
“Indiana Pathways Academy has not stayed true to the proposal,” Garrison said. “The reports are reflecting very poor academic process on behalf of the students at both of these schools. There seemed to be students who didn’t have any course assignments at all, and that was a huge concern.”
The schools in reality do not appear too different from one another, he said. In fact, he said, the schools seemed to routinely swap students and instructors.
“We had some concerns around that information,” he said. “It was quite an ordeal to get that information.”
Daleville Assistant Superintendent Dave Stashevsky said Indiana Virtual Academy started with nine students the first year and grew to 30 students the next year. Today, according to the Indiana Department of Education, the schools serve more than 7,200 combined.
“Now as we are able to see the data, it appears the educational focus has not been able to be maintained as they grew,” he said.
For instance, the Indiana Virtual School’s graduation rate reported to the IDOE for 2018 was 24 percent, up considerably from 6.4 percent the year before but far below the statewide rate of more than 88 percent. Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy’s graduation rate in 2018 was 2.2 percent.
Stashevsky said district officials met monthly with the virtual school operators. However, he said, they often were less than forthcoming about turning over data.
“Over the past year, they have been coming up with one excuse after another for reasons why they wouldn’t give us the data. Our supposition is they went into the data, saw it was awful and didn’t want to give it to us,” he said.
That changed last year, however, when the Indiana General Assembly passed a law allowing authorizers to have direct access to reporting data. But it took till Aug. 1 for Daleville to receive the relevant data and until recently to go through it to determine the progress of the charter schools, Stashevsky said.
Even then, Garrison stressed, charter authorizers don’t have any say in how a virtual school is organized, what it offers and who it hires.
Practices that could be viewed as deceptive, Garrison said, include transferring students from the Indiana Virtual School to the Indiana Virtual Pathways School in a way that prevented their standardized test scores from being used in their accountability scores. Students have to be in a school a minimum of 120 days for the scores to be used.
“In looking at it, you could come to that conclusion,” he said. “In effect their pass rates may not count in the letter grade of either school.”
Garrison said he believes IDOE officials also had concerns about standardized testing protocols not being followed by the virtual schools.
Daleville schools have themselves maintained an A Rating from the Indiana Department of Education since 2012, received numerous 4-Star designations and been identified by U.S. News & World Report in 2018 as operating one of the Best High Schools in America. However, Garrison admits concern the closure of the online schools could reflect poorly on his district.
Still, Garrison said he supports a variety of educational options for students, including online schools.
“I still think virtual education has a place and is a needed choice for parents in Indiana. I think it can be successful,” he said. ”I think it’s possible to meet that challenge with the right support.”
The documents detailing the ways in which Daleville officials believe each school failed to fulfill the charter requirements is available at Daleville Community Schools’ website, http://www.daleville.k12.in.us.