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"A positive disruption": West Ottawa launches full-time virtual school

The district's teachers will have a choice in the fall to be fully remote or part-time remote out of the new building along West Lakewood Boulevard.

HOLLAND, Mich. — Education has changed over the past year as many students had to learn through the computer. For some it was a tough transition, but for others, virtual learning was a good fit. 

West Ottawa Public Schools took that into account, and have now launched a full-time online program for the upcoming school year. It's called the West Ottawa Virtual Academy.

"The pandemic was disruptive in many ways to education, but this was one of the positive disruptions," said Todd Tulgetske, Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services for West Ottawa Public Schools.

That positive disruption was discovering new kinds of learning for students. Halfway through this school year, the district decided to form a team of staff to research and build a permanent online learning option for their students.

"We gathered a team of people and really started planning to create our own virtual option with our own curriculum," Tulgetske said. "We'll also be on our own learning management system so that we can be more confident with the educational product that we are offering."

Right now, West Ottawa teachers are using an online school vendor, so they're excited about forming their own online curriculum for what best serves their students.

The district's teachers will also have a choice in the fall to be fully remote or part-time remote out of the new building along West Lakewood Boulevard.

Todd Tulgetske said the school also recognizes that virtual learning isn't the best option for all students.

"But it is right for some students," he said. "And those students who have been successful may want to continue this for a number of reasons."

"So we wanted to build our own educational product and option for those who have found success and have found flexibility in a virtual education," Tulgetske added.

The West Ottawa Virtual Academy is opening at no additional cost to taxpayers, and the classes will parallel those that are offered in-person.

"We're excited about the opportunity," said Todd Tulgetske. "We're excited about being able to offer another educational option for families."

School leaders say this moment of transformation in the education system is monumental because it's giving new options to learners of all kinds. 

"We've had a lot of people come around this project and we're looking forward to opening it in the fall," Tulgetske said.

Additional information about the new school from the district is below:

The West Ottawa Public Schools Board of Education has approved a new K-12, full-time virtual school option for families called West Ottawa Virtual Academy (WOVA). Using curriculum developed by highly-qualified West Ottawa Public Schools teachers and staff that aligns with the curriculum the district currently uses throughout its schools, WOVA is open for enrollment for the 2021-22 school year. 

Created based on parent demand for a robust virtual option during the coronavirus pandemic, WOVA underwent a thorough application process with the Michigan Department of Education before being presented to the district Board for approval. The new virtual school expects to serve many families across the district and the region in grades K-12. WOVA will follow the same calendar year as WOPS and offer one-to-one Chromebooks and technological resources for families. Staff and supports available through WOPS will be offered to WOVA families—including mental health professionals and school counselors. 

WOVA classes will be parallel to those offered through WOPS, apart from elective classes that require in-person attendance, such as music classes, woodworking, metals, and computer-aided design, as well as certain programs supporting students with special needs. While Advanced Placement courses will be offered through WOVA, the district is still examining options to make the International Baccalaureate program available. WOVA will be led by Elaine Stiefel, M.A., Ed., Director of Instructional Technology & Virtual Learning. 

"During the 2020-21 school year, we saw nearly 800 students select our virtual learning option, and we know many of those students would like to continue to pursue their education online," said Superintendent Tim Bearden. "At West Ottawa Public Schools, it is our priority to meet families where they are—and many of them are online." 

While the curriculum was created by district teachers and staff, WOVA will be using Canvas as the learning management system to ensure a customized experience for families selecting the online learning environment. WOVA students will also be able to participate in district extracurricular activities. 

"Online learning is a viable option for many families, for a variety of reasons," said Stiefel. "By offering this option, we can allow our families to choose what works best for them. This is a monumental moment of transformation for our district, and we look forward to continuing to serve as educational leaders in our community." 

For more information on WOVA, or to learn more about enrollment for the 2021-22 school year, please visit www.westottawa.net/schools/wova/   

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