Building a Regional, Virtual, Blended School

A Georgia superintendent talks about achieving his district’s goal of having high school students earn college credit for free.

CREDIT Morris Leis Coffee CountyMorris Leis, Ed.D., has been the superintendent of the 8,000-student Coffee County School District in southeastern Georgia since August 2011. In this exclusive interview with EdTech Digest, Morris talks about achieving his district’s goal of having high school students earn college credit for free.

What was your vision that sparked the creation of the Wiregrass Regional College and Career Academy (WRCCA)?

Morris Leis: In 2012, the Coffee County School System created a strategic plan that included nine goals for our school system. Goal five is to prepare “high school graduates who are ready for college or career entry and for life itself.” To reach this goal, we developed a new high school, the Coffee County College and Career Academy, which included a virtual component for students with a desire to work toward college. We wanted to give students opportunities they may not have in a traditional high school. Through this process, we realized we could expand our high school and college courses online to offer even more flexibility to students. We partnered with Wiregrass Georgia Technical College (WGTC) to offer high school students college classes.

With the partnership, students in 11 counties throughout southern Georgia are able to take advantage of what we have to offer, which is the flexibility of an online high school for college credit and the perk of completing courses at your own pace.

Thanks to a grant from the Technical College System of Georgia, we are constructing a new building where we will be able to offer a dual-credit program where high school students can work toward their diploma and a college degree simultaneously. We officially changed the name of our new school to the Wiregrass Regional College and Career Academy. We started enrolling full time virtual students at the start of 2016.

Georgia is a Move on When Ready state, meaning that high school students can complete college coursework for high school and college credit. The program is state funded, so students can get college credit for free.

The great part about the collaboration is that students are able to choose between being completely virtual as well as a blended option where they take some courses in the classroom in addition to online. Students can travel to any WGTC campus and take advantage of the resources they offer, such as career-services centers. WGTC also opens their doors for student to take proctored exams including required state tests. By offering all this flexibility to our students, we are able to make college seem attainable for almost any student.

What role did the various stakeholders play in the creation of WRCCA?

Morris: When we opened our career academy in 2013, the community and school board were extremely excited. We approached WGTC with the opportunity to reach more high school students through their college courses, and they were 100 percent on board. When we applied for the grant, the Technical College System of Georgia was enthusiastic about our big idea of opening a new high school and offering a dual-credit program. WRCCA is a first-of-its-kind partnership in our area, offering a regional approach to education. I believe without the grant and enthusiasm from all parties involved, WRCCA would not have been a possibility.

How will WRCCA differ from other virtual opportunities that your district has offered in the past?

Morris: The biggest difference with WRCCA is the fact that we can reach students beyond Coffee County. With the partnership, students in 11 counties throughout southern Georgia are able to take advantage of what we have to offer, which is the flexibility of an online high school for college credit and the perk of completing courses at your own pace.

How do you handle the curriculum side of WRCCA?

Morris: Students enrolled at WRCCA have the option to take courses virtually and/or in the classroom. Thanks to our flexible online curriculum, Odysseyware, teachers can create customized lessons for each student.

WRCCA offers flexibility to gifted students who wish to accelerate their learning by taking online courses where they can learn at their own pace. Even when they’re taking classes virtually, students have teachers at their disposal. They can contact them via e-mail or schedule virtual or in-person meetings for additional help.

What are the long-term advantages of having students earn their AA while they’re still in high school?

Morris: Because students have the opportunity to graduate from high school with a two-year degree, students have the potential to attain a bachelor’s degree and possibly an advanced degree earlier in life. A dual-credit program accelerates the process of higher education so our students are able to jump into the job force much earlier than most. This helps our entire economy by bringing young, fresh, and educated adults with new ideas into our workforce.

What would you like to see at WRCCA five years from now?

Morris: If you would have asked me this question five years ago, there is no way I could have predicted we would be where we are now. In the short term, we have a goal of enrolling 200 additional students in the next six months. In the long term, we hope to offer more courses to students virtually and at the WGTC campuses. We hope to expand our partnership to reach even more students and to offer one of the highest-quality high school programs in Georgia.

Superintendent Leis can be reached via email at morris.leis@coffee.k12.ga.us

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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