ESC board receives virtual learning update

VIRTUAL  LEARNING  UPDATE — Mark Masloski of the Virtual Learning Academy of the Jefferson County Educational Service Center provided an update on the expansion of the VLA and the Virtual Classroom to the ESC governing board Tuesday morning at the ESC offices on Sunset Boulevard. -- Paul Giannamore

STEUBENVILLE — Virtual learning and the Jefferson Health Plan are growing products of the Jefferson County Educational Service Center.

Mark Masloski updated the ESC governing board during its May meeting Tuesday morning about the Virtual Learning Academy and Virtual Classroom products, while the Jefferson Health Plan’s growth into other states was highlighted by George Ash, the ESC’s chief executive officer.

Masloski said the ESC has been involved with the VLA for more than 16 years, and it has increased to include more than 50 computer-graded courses, including new courses to help students with state testing. There are 175 teacher-graded courses in the library, he said. The VLA can provide up to 20 types of reporting, including student seat time and inactivity, unit reports and setting time requirements. Students are not to be in online learning more than 10 hours a day, so limits can be placed because students who work will try to catch up after work or during weekends, Masloski said.

He said there are 35 new courses, including 19 teacher-graded courses and 16 computer-graded courses.

He also said the system is being developed to allow each school to know how it does compared with one another, compared with districts and the entire VLA.

He said 10 new contracts are being submitted.

Masloski said new curriculum doesn’t leave behind the vocational school learners. WorkKeys is an industry credential class that students at the JVS have to take, and is VLA available.

Masloski said schools are moving away from giving each student a Chromebook in favor of carts with chargers on them to ease late-afternoon jams for students recharging their own machines.

Masloski said 10 schools are coming on to add VLA. He said the system has saved schools more than $1 million since 2012. Curriculum is offered that schools otherwise might not be able to provide, with learning labs replacing study halls, Masloski said, for students who need intervention. The VLA is contracted for the alternative school at the juvenile detention center, which obtained $37,000 worth of licenses by paying $2,500 to the VLA. Students who go to the alternative school and regular schools with the VLA already have passwords ready to go and continue their education where they left off when they go to the alternative school and stay on pace with their education.

The Virtual Classroom project takes the courses available through the VLA and puts them into a school’s library. Work is being done with the OME-RESA and other information technology centers to place Virtual Classroom products, Masloski said. There are systems that allow grades to go directly to the electronic gradebook from testing. He said the Buckeye Local and Southern Local school districts are using the product.

Masloski said Virtual Classroom can save schools from spending tens of thousands of dollars on ordering new textbooks by using the curriculum. Assessments and end-of-course exams and other elements teachers need are available, such as worksheets and intervention programs.

ESC Superintendent Chuck Kokiko said districts that are part of the ESC pay $1,000 for a license for the curriculum, providing access to 175 courses, allowing not just remediation but for students to take courses that otherwise would not be available in their district, such as Latin or American Sign Language. Masloski said all districts in the ESC have contracts for the Virtual Classroom. Students can take courses that are available, and it does not cost the district additional money.

For districts beyond the ESC, the fees are based on district or building usage, Masloski said.

Ash said the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey that pushed for after-school programming, which led to the 21st Century Grant being pursued. The grant serves 124 students in grades 5 through 8. The first year of the grant is being completed. Ash said the grant arose from the chamber working with schools to try to better the community.

The Jefferson Health Plan, Ash reported, has grown beyond state lines to include multiple public employers in Tennessee. The plan is being permitted to go to Michigan, he said.

The Jefferson Health Plan was created in 1985 from schools in Jefferson, Belmont and Noble counties, with the ESC acting as fiscal agent. The program has grown from the 8,200 employees who were covered in 2013 to the more than 75,000 covered who are covered now, Ash said. Having a consortium brings costs down because of the higher negotiating power. The self-insured group plan has the ability to ride out high-cost, high-claim years because money that would have gone as profit to a private insurer is kept in the plan, Ash explained.