Little Rock school board approves using some livestreamed teachers at Mablevale Middle School

Short on teachers to fill vacancies, the Little Rock School District’s Mabelvale Middle School will incorporate the use of online instructors for some courses this coming school year.

The district’s School Board voted unanimously at a special meeting Thursday to authorize a $179,724 contract with Proximity Learning of Austin, Texas, for three online teachers for Mabelvale: one science teacher, one math teacher, and one Spanish teacher.

“As you are aware … we are struggling just a tad bit — as many other districts are across the nation — with filling all of our teacher vacancies,” Superintendent Jermall Wright told the board. “We have an opportunity to pilot a different approach to addressing our teacher shortages.”

Wright said Mabelvale was selected for the online teachers because of the vacancies there, including “a few” positions for which the school did not receive any applications.

“We’ll see if this could potentially help us with other teacher shortages that we may run into in the future,” he said.

Proximity Learning livestreams state-certified teachers into classrooms, according to documents presented to the School Board members regarding what is called a “pilot partnership” between the school system and Proximity Learning.

The plans call for Proximity Learning to provide teaching for five sections of seventh-grade science, one section of eighth-grade science, four sections of Spanish I, two sections of Spanish II and one section of algebra I.

The board approved the plan with no discussion.

“Thank you, Dr. Wright, for you and your staff being creative in trying to address this issue,” board President Greg Adams said. “Perhaps we will be able to learn something from this opportunity.”

The use of Proximity Learning’s virtual instruction program is the latest of the district’s use in recent years of online learning — much of which was the result of the covid-19 pandemic that began in March 2020.

Most recently, the Little Rock district in the just-ended 2021-2022 school year established the Ignite Digital Academy for grades kindergarten through six — headquartered at the former Henderson Middle School — and the Ignite Digital Academy for grades seven through 12 — Headquartered at the Little Rock West School of Innovation adjacent to Pinnacle View Middle School.

The Ignite teachers were district employees who taught from those two locations for students who were at their homes.

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