FAVE staff show they can have fun, too. (FCS/FAVE)

Fulton County Schools evaluated the performance of its Fulton Academy of Virtual Excellence (FAVE), a full-time remote learning school that had 1,118 students enrolled in the 2021-2022 school year.

“It was born out of a need that was sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic for a viable online educational option for parents who didn’t want their students returning to a building,” Clara O’Rourke, FCS program evaluation coordinator, told the Fulton School Board at its Oct. 11 work session.

The school was designed for students in grades 3 through 11 as a full-time remote learning environment, she said. The students, 64 teachers and 13 administrators worked in a blend of live, online lessons and self-directed lessons.

The evaluation focused on three key questions, said Amanda Swerdlow, an FCS program evaluation analyst. The first two sought to answer how FAVE aligns with best practices and programs in teaching as defined by national standards.

The student demographics varied greatly from the school district overall, FAVE Principal Taylor Barton said. Black students made up 65% of FAVE’s enrollment, which was 23% higher than the district-wide population. Asian students made up 14% of the school population and 9% were Hispanic. Out of the student population, 59% came from economically disadvantaged homes, which also was higher than the district average.

Recommendations from O’Rourke and other district staff offered actions to take to improve teacher and student performance in the school.

Professional development for online teaching was suggested to improve instructional design. To increase engagement by students, educators would continue that professional development that included coaching them on online student engagement.

“We also have implemented a cameras-on policy and that is in response to making sure that students are engaged in the lesson and not simply just logging on to a team’s meeting and then walking away,” Barton said.

Teachers found it difficult to carry out national laws or mandates on accessibility, so staff proposed providing training from the Professional Association of Georgia Education (PAGE) lawyer on Code of Ethics with a focus on online teaching.

FAVE needed to improve its community building as well. So the school added a parent liaison to connect with parents.

“On top of that we’ve launched a PTO, as well as continued work with our school governance council, just to make sure that parents are engaged in FAVE just like they would a normal brick and mortar school,” Barton said.

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.