Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Accreditation! Check!

Yesterday MNPS Virtual School rounded out two days of intensive review by a four person visiting committee from AdvanceED, the accreditation organization which handles Continuous Improvement model review for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The extensive review process was described afterward by one of our Academy of Business and Marketing partners, who had undergone it herself, as "maybe more intense than writing my [Masters] dissertation." It involves weeks of collaborative work within the organization, compiling documentary evidence that the school meets or exceeds a set of criteria set by the reviewing organization, which serves over 32,000 schools in 173 countries. The process needs be driven by a single person in the school but everyone in the team is tapped to help provide evidential  documentation. Dr. Witty was the driver, and our "small but mighty" Executive Leadership team, aided by most of our Adjunct v-Teachers, contributed.

In order to even begin compiling said evidence, long meetings with a detailed self-evaluation tool were held in order to identify which kinds of documentation may be needed for each individual element in an extensive rubric. 

During the visit, the four team members from AdvanceED scheduled and held separate interview sessions with stakeholders, including students, parents, staff, faculty, and administration. They sequestered themselves in a conference room for hours, also spending time meeting off-campus in their hotel, discussing and debating findings toward preparing an exit review report rooted in consensus.

At around 2:30 yesterday, Dr. Karla Gable, the leader of the review team, reported out. She presented our brief "External Review Exit Report for Digital Learning Institutions." Toward the end, Dr. Gable shared what AdvancED calls their "Index of Education Quality, "a set of numbers that represent the review findings in quantitative ways so that they can be compared with those achieved by all of those many schools in their system. Our scores in each of the free domains, "Teaching and Learning Impact," "Leadership Capacity," and "Resource Utilization," were very significantly higher than the averages. I won't detail those but I will share that our overall score was 337.80 and the AE Network average overall score is 282.79. The final slide in her PowerPoint set proclaimed the news:

Dr. Karla Gable prepares to present final findings
MNPSVS recommendation

We had done it. The information we had collected and shared in a massive Dropbox folder, then summarized in a 43 slide PowerPoint of our own on Monday, had clearly demonstrated that we deserve to be among the digital learning institutions accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The committee team's report further noted a few things, including that the strides toward excellence we have made over our brief life as a program and a school--these at other districts have only been made with both funding levels and staffing levels at 3 or 4 times the ones we have had in place. Either we are very efficient or we are very lucky. I'm guessing it's a combination of the two. And we are blessed to be led by Dr. James Witty, our Executive Principle, who is organized to a tee and completely knowledgeable about how Continuous Improvement philosophies and concepts drive a school to excellence.

Our team is very special, and by that I mean not only our core Leadership team--I extend that description to everyone in the school, all the stakeholders, all of us. Importantly, now that we have distinguished our school in this way we can return our full attention to exercising the continuous improvement we have demonstrated thus far. Thank you, AdvanceED, SACS, and Metro Nashville Public Schools. We're on it.

Over and out,

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Summer Learning Opportunity Grants for Teachers

Sharing this today so that our teachers might take a look at the Tennessee Classroom Chronicles blog and pursue their summer learning/travel projects toward making themselves even better teachers and improving the learning experience for their students.  Read about the "Fund for Teachers" grants and how YOU can take advantage of this program to help stretch our limited professional development budget this year.

Classroom Chronicles blog

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Connect with Us

There are myriad ways to connect with the "Best Kept Secret in Nashville," MNPS Virtual School. I'm going to bullet them in here so that you can always have a place to go.

Well, you sort of already do. Our website at has been described from above as "the best school website in Metro Nashville Public Schools." We are proud of that, in part because we know that there are some very good ones; but also because we have put hours and hours of hard work into making it so.

Many ways to connect are linked in our footer bar. There's Facebook, Twitter, our bi-monthly newsletter, and that last link in the row of four shares our weekly Literacy Focus.  These last are Prezis created by the capable Mr. Michael Terry, v-Learning Support Specialist and v-Lead Teacher. We are very soon rolling out the Live Chat feature where that right-hand footer icon will take you. 

Another initiative we are rolling out soon involves 3D Virtual Environments, in particular an OpenSimulator virtual "island" hosted by Kitely. In this environment, students and teachers can meet with voice capability, text chat archive, and image display options. They can also build projects demonstrating concepts they've learned in their courses. Break-out chat islands are connected to individual open-air classroom platforms and there's a "sandbox" rimmed with displays about how to best learn to use this new "place." 

As we roll this out over the next few months, I'll share here about how it's going. There will be pictures, and perhaps even machinima! If you're brave enough to venture forth to the public copy of the space, updated as improvements are made to our private world, you can see it at .

Here's a snapshot:

Meanwhile, connect! Even dropping by our beautiful Thomas W. Hatfield Student Success Center at 4805 Park Avenue, up on the 3rd floor, would be great. Though we're busy busy busy someone will always take a few minutes to show you around. See you soon!

Scott Merrick, v-Learning Support Specialist, v-Lead Teacher, and Academies Coach

Monday, October 28, 2013

AUP at MNPS Helps Students Along the 21st Century Road

We have long had an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) at Metro Nashville (Tennessee) Public Schools, but it is more than ever important now that the District has migrated student emails to Microsoft Office 365
With that migration, all students were required to take another look at the AUP, even though they may have "signed" it years ago when the district was purchasing email server space from the City of Nashville. Agreeing to the AUP as revise in May 2012 opens up the wealth of resources Office 365 has to offer, including Outlook email, Skydrive cloud storage, Office in the cloud, and RSS feeds.

The Acceptable Use Policy is designed to state and support safe online practice not only by students, but by staff and faculty. It can be read online at any time. Click here to do so. 

The standard caveats apply, including in the "unacceptable use" list such infractions as...

13) Revealing the home address or phone number of one’s self or another person.
and 21) Knowingly placing a computer virus on a computer or network. 

Though it may be assumed that such advice and warnings are common knowledge these days, a school district owes it to its administration and its constituents to reiterate them and to protect itself and its charges from wrong doing or from attack by others.

That's what it's all about. 

Other policies and safe/best practices are noted in the AUP's "Netiquette" section. They are so universal because they are so generally accepted as the right thing to do. Here they are in total:
 Network and E-Mail Etiquette
1) Be polite.
2) Use appropriate language and appropriate keying etiquette (Example: using all caps is considered yelling).
3) Do not reveal personal data (picture of yourself, home address, phone number, phone number of other people, picture of others).

4) Remember that the other users of the District’s computer online services and
other networks are human beings whose culture, language, and humor have
different points of reference from your own.
5) Users should be polite when forwarding e-mail. The intent of forwarding email should be on a need-to-know basis.
6)The distribution of chain letters, spam, advertisements and unauthorized solicitations is unacceptable and forbidden.
7)E-mail should be used for educational or administrative purposes only.
8)E-mail transmissions, stored data, transmitted data, or any other use of the District’s computer online services by students, employees, or any other user shall not be considered confidential and may be monitored at any time by designated staff to ensure appropriate use.
9)All e-mail and all e-mail contents are property of the District.
These policies are most important in our school, where most of our work is carried out online, and we appreciate them and look forward to helping our students incorporating them into their lives as they create their digital footprints and leave them behind for others to follow. As they move through our Virtual Academy of Business and Marketing and take advantage of our Introduction to Social Media class, all of this will more than come in handy. It will be essential!

As students access their courses through our district's Blackboard Learning Management System (LMS), they may move into other LMSs for particular courses, but we utilize Blackboard as the starting place for all of them, engaging students with its built-in Class Messaging system. We are looking forward to upcoming deployments of the Chat interface and in-course Classrooms using Blackboard Collaborate. It is a world of wonder, opening up new options for students as we prepare them (and they us) for the immense changes education will see in upcoming years.

Visit and explore our website at for much much more.

Posted by Scott Merrick, MNPS Virtual School v-Learning Support Specialist and v-Lead Teacher