Ten years ago, I joined the Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA) team. I first learned about online education from a friend who loved her job as a teacher at IDVA. Her passion for her work inspired me to apply and, shortly after, I was hired as a special education teacher at the middle school level. When I started, I was very interested in how online education worked for students with disabilities—I tried to wrap my mind around how online education could meet their unique needs. After joining the team, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the options and number of programs in place allowing students with disabilities, and their families, the flexibility and customization they need to excel.
After teaching at the middle school level for several years—and becoming a lead teacher—our special education director left, and I stepped in as the interim director for the rest of the year, which was an incredible opportunity. When our new full-time director started, I worked closely with her during her first year on the job and was able to learn quite a bit from her experiences coming from a brick-and-mortar school.
A year in, she approached me to see if I would be interested in permanently stepping into the role of director. She had specialized in school psychology in the past and was interested in serving in that role for IDVA, opening the door for the two of us to work in tandem to provide students with even more comprehensive support. Today, I am the special services administrator at IDVA and Idaho Technical Career Academy, and she is the school psychologist at IDVA. This partnership has changed the ways we support students because we are focusing on being proactive, instead of reactive, to their needs.
Even in an administrator role, I continue interacting with students and parents every day to ensure they have the resources they need, which is extremely important to me. We have an open line of communication with families and are always in touch to ensure we're setting goals for students and giving them the tools they need to achieve them. It truly is a collaborative approach to academic support for students.
A couple of weeks ago, a student needed an audio reader that could read one of his textbooks out loud. As a K12-powered school, we not only have a number of resources in our school, we also have access to the K12 Special Program team, resources and tools that we can tap into to help students. I reached out to the K12 team to see what was available for this student. Quickly, a member of the team replied saying he had found a resource and prepared a recording for the student's family explaining step-by-step how to use it. The family and the student were delighted. That's just one example—these things happen every day.
The Summit courses, the backbone of our curriculum, are built on a consistent, predictable instructional model to ground students in what to expect, and are packed with rigorous content, interactivity, and engaging media and video. The courses utilize data to adapt learner paths and to offer students the right amount of scaffolding and practice. Summit courses are designed expressly for a digital learning environment, using technology and instructional design principles to enhance teaching and engagement, not just to deliver print-based instruction online. The result is a comprehensive online learning experience.
My team is repeatedly impressed that, for example, these courses feature an audio component for students who may be less comfortable with some of the visual components. This feature has made a huge difference for our students and families.
Because of the resources we can deliver to our students, we are proud that our students with disabilities at IDVA are outperforming state averages. According to the 2018 Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), our IDVA students with disabilities, on average, were 5.9 percentage points more proficient in math and 4.5 percentage points more proficient in English language arts than the statewide average.
Technology is rapidly changing, so it's nice to have a team that has its finger on the pulse of every change and can offer new resources and solutions to our team at IDVA. As a K12-powered school, we can learn from the experiences of schools and teachers across the country, share knowledge, and, therefore, be able to offer the best solutions to our students.
KEYWORDS: Special Needs, School Administrators (or Administrators or School Leaders), Personalized Learning, Unlocking Potential, Student Success