/DeVos explores potential of virtual learning in the Delta amid harsh conditions public schools face

DeVos explores potential of virtual learning in the Delta amid harsh conditions public schools face

Mississippi News LEXINGTON Nonprofit – Students at Holmes County Central High School asked questions about Betsy DeVos’ visit. “Do you have any idea why Ms. Devos came?” I did some research on her and found that she was not an advocate for public education. I was curious what her interest is in going to public school. We would love to know if she could ever find herself financing a public school. Or help? We really don’t know why we’re here.” However, the U.S. secretary of education wasn’t there to answer those questions on Thursday. As part of her “Re-Think School Tour”, she was visiting the Global Teaching Project, a program that brings advanced placement classes (AP) to rural schools. This program is also available at other Mississippi rural schools. It has the potential of exposing students to challenging academic curriculums in areas where there are many obstacles. Holmes County School District was home to the highest percentage of uncertified teachers during the 2017-2018 schoolyear. According to data from the Mississippi Department of Education, 34% of teachers weren’t properly certified during the 2017-2018 school year. The high school also didn’t offer any AP courses that year. The school also received an F in the state department’s accountability report. In 2018, the district unofficially received an f, which could lead to the district being taken over by the state. The county’s median household income is $20,000 and it is located in rural Mississippi where almost 60% of residents don’t have high-speed broadband access. “The need that we are addressing is students in rural schools, especially those in low-income communities, where there are many smart kids. Matt Dolan, Global Teaching Project CEO, said that these students are often denied access to advanced courses. Through a combination of online tutoring, video classes, and classroom instruction in person, the project brought AP physics classes into 11 schools in Mississippi. DeVos, a vocal supporter of online learning in rural areas, sat in the Holmes County AP physics class on Thursday. DeVos was able to see students perform physics experiments, and then they moved to another room to show how video conference tutoring works. Kristen Ellis, a student in the AP physics class, said that she feels like they are being treated as if they were a project. Ellis expressed appreciation for the program and said that she felt it would be beneficial to have it available at other schools. However, Ellis and others were disappointed that they had to perform for DeVos’ visit. They also noted that tutoring was not available in the library last week due to DeVos’ visit and that there weren’t soap dispensers in the bathrooms until DeVos arrived. DeVos sat in on a roundtable discussion that included educators, education advocates, and students. Many of them pleaded for more programs such as this. DeVos was told by James Henderson, the superintendent of Holmes County Schools District, that “we have work to do” and that they are relying on him to assist them. DeVos was impressed by the school’s willingness and ability to explore new approaches to education. DeVos stated, “It’s really convicting to hear from students… and know you have so many talents needing the opportunity to develop.” “We are certain to continue to work with you in order to provide the freedom and flexibility that you need to meet your students’ needs here.” U.S. Senate candidate David Baria, and Mike Espy, were both scheduled campaign events Friday to respond to DeVos’ visit. Baria had planned to visit Noxubee County’s school that will close in the future. He stated that underfunding in public schools is being made worse by Secretary DeVos’s policies in cutting federal funding. Espy hosted a roundtable in Jackson at his campaign headquarters. He stated that Betsy DeVos’s policies of cutting federal funding are making public school underfunding worse. Adam Ganucheau contributed to this report.