Navigating the ever-evolving landscape of education requires a blend of foresight, adaptability, and creative problem-solving. In this context, educators grappling with some of the industry’s most pressing challenges—teacher shortages, limited course offerings, and tightening budgets— increasingly recognize the potential of virtual academics to bridge these gaps.

Despite concerted efforts and resource allocation, a staggering 18 million students remain without the guidance of experienced teachers. This shortage creates a domino effect, limiting the breadth of available courses and opportunities. More than 40 states have annually reported shortages of teachers in science, math, special education, as well as other subjects, resulting in less opportunities for students to access these core subjects.

Recently, Class convened a panel of virtual academic experts to discuss the current state of online education programs and the strategies leaders can employ to overcome these current obstacles.

Strategically leveraging virtual academics

As noted above, sometimes unexpected events conspire to stress the education industry, such as a pandemic. However, there are still very pressing issues weighing on educators that can be solved with ingenuity and creativity.

It’s no secret that education, specifically K-12, has seen a truly concerning staffing shortage over the past decade, and it is expected to continue to grow if solutions aren’t identified. A recent USA Today article reported that “Nearly 9 in 10 public school districts struggled to hire [in-person] teachers heading into the school year.” One way virtual academies can help address this issue is by leveraging the power of technology to put a single educator in front of more students without expecting that instructor to carry the load of all full responsibilities.

Staffing creativity

Dr. Sharon Shewbridge, Director of Instructional Technology at Virginia Beach City Public Schools, points out one of the ways her district is addressing staffing creatively, “One of the things I talk a lot about is ‘How can we make this a benefit for teachers?’ I'm a high school teacher. I have young children, but I have to be at school at seven. I don't see my kids to the bus. Can we figure out ways that we have flexible scheduling for staff? The contract doesn't say face-to-face from 7:10 am to 2:40 pm. The contract might say, ‘You teach six classes and two of those will be asynchronous, virtual.’”

Shewbridge continues, “I can have the first block at home with my kids. I get to school for the second block. I'm there for the second, third, fourth bell. Then I leave, and I'm home in time to get my kids off the bus. Then I'm teaching a class at 5:00 at night [...] So there are ways we're trying to continue to develop this, not just to benefit students, but also to benefit the teachers in our division.”

Kristen Disney, Managing Director of Specialty Courses at Epic Charter Schools, highlights another innovative solution, adding, “One way Epic met the need for teacher shortages is we started an alternative certification program where we hired teachers who had a bachelor's or professionals that had a bachelor's in a different field such as business or anything that might warrant them to be professionals that would want to take the step to become a teacher. We would hire them and put them through a ‘You Teach’ program that would give them the tools they needed to become master teachers and certified in the state of Oklahoma. This has been a huge win for our district and for the state, because, even if the teacher did not stay within our district, we know that they're teaching somewhere else in the state of Oklahoma, which is combating that statewide, or even nationwide, epidemic that we have of teacher shortage. We've entered 200 people through this program and got them alternatively certified through the state of Oklahoma [with] a 76% retention rate.”

Demonstrating value

Hand-in-hand with staffing is the issue of budget. Acquiring enough teachers to adequately educate a school district’s students isn’t just about finding enough qualified candidates; it’s also about having the money to pay them properly and keep them on staff.

Jill Rogier, Head of Schools at Arizona State University Prep Academy, sees the two as inextricably linked, “I think the biggest cost for probably all of us is staffing, right? I mean, just having teachers, having highly qualified teachers, and making sure that we have all of the different subject areas covered. So one of the things we do at Prep is we keep an adjunct bench of teachers […] We need to be ready to go with teachers so we're interviewing all the time, and we are onboarding and training and really getting them ready to go so that if we need a teacher tomorrow, we have that. But also just having that adjunct flexibility, it is a cost-saving measure. Just a micro-school with this one course where we can leverage more people in a creative way, utilizing adjuncts versus having two-and-a-half full-time teachers that it would take to run that same course.”

Dr. Shewbridge adds, “[Neutral budgeting has] been really important to be able to continue to work with [our] Budget and Development [office] to show and demonstrate [no excess spending] so that we don't get cut and we don't lose access to some of these resources.”

Virtual academies as a growing solution

As school districts continue to look for ways to solve these vexing issues, the ability to embrace virtual programs and growing leaps in technology will allow for creative solutions not available exclusively through brick-and-mortar classrooms. As Dr. Shewbridge acknowledges, “I think [virtual academics are] going to only grow.”

Are you ready to explore a virtual academy solution for your school district? Reach out to a Class team member today, and let’s start unearthing answers to your district's challenges. Want to check out the full webinar? You can find the entire recording here.

Shelby Jones

Shelby Jones is the K-12 Sales Director at Class. She’s held market-facing positions at leading EdTech companies nationally, and consults educators in their adoption of SaaS solutions for all departments. She’s passionate about start-ups, education, and technology.

Shelby Jones

Shelby Jones is the K-12 Sales Director at Class. She’s held market-facing positions at leading EdTech companies nationally, and consults educators in their adoption of SaaS solutions for all departments. She’s passionate about start-ups, education, and technology.

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