Local Schools: The Other Side of NCVPS

As discussed elsewhere on our site, we did not choose to have our children registered for NCVPS courses.  Two of our children’s local schools enrolled them in three NCVPS courses and informed us this was the only path for our children to pursue a curriculum that would meet their educational goals.  For our son at Ligon Middle School in Raleigh, NC, not only was the course teacher intent on overcoming the significant obstacles with NCVPS, but the counselor and assistant principal at Ligon also were diligent in ensuring appropriate online course delivery at the school. They provided our son a computer in a quiet location with a bit of oversight (that they then stepped up when he needed more guidance), and they checked in with him, with us and with his teacher periodically.  This was a positive example of one teacher and two administrators working hard and dedicating themselves to partnering with one another, the student and family to provide positive educational outcomes despite significant systemic issues.  It is a shame that the public education system (and NCVPS in particular) is so broken that this level of effort is required for success, but we applaud their efforts and energy.

This positive experience stood in stark contrast to our daughter’s experience at Millbrook High in Raleigh, NC. Run by Dana King, regularly touted as a former Principal of the Year, Millbrook was a full-on experience of how to focus on anything other than educational outcomes for students – both with NCVPS classes and with their own face-to-face courses.  A handful of dedicated teachers and administrators remain at Millbrook making heroic efforts for the benefit of students.  But those who start out that way are often so beaten down by the unhelpful bureaucracy at Millbrook, at Wake County and at DPI, that they either depart or descend to the level of apathy that Millbrook allows.  Millbrook’s delivery of the NCVPS courses was no exception.  Millbrook Student Services Dean and eLearning Advisor (eLA), Vanessa Barnes, enrolled our daughter in two courses at NCVPS.  We inquired about other alternatives we identified at the time but were informed that NCVPS was the only way our daughter could continue her challenging course load necessary to compete for admission and scholarships to top tier colleges and universities.  While Millbrook claimed to offer a wide-range of Advanced Placement courses to students, the reality was that many were offered at conflicting times and, therefore, students could take little of what was nominally offered.  We were informed by Ms. Barnes that NCVPS offered the only way around those constraints.

Our daughter was initially assigned by Millbrook administrators to a study hall trailer during the class periods allocated to her NCVPS courses.  Many other students taking AP, credit recovery and other NCVPS courses were assigned to the same space. The room was proctored by one of Millbrook’s teachers, but that did not stop many credit recovery students from smoking, cursing, shouting and using sexist and racist vulgarities so loudly that serious studying was all but impossible. When we informed the Millbrook administration and advocated for immediate change, Assistant Principal Sebastian Shipp said that he would first have to “assess” the situation personally. We were informed by our daughter and other students in the trailer that Mr. Shipp arrived in the study hall, well-noticed since he is a huge physical presence.  He took a seat at a computer and promptly fell asleep.  Unsurprisingly, he reported no issues with the room atmosphere (even though the proctor confirmed that students were profane and unruly). We continued to advocate for our daughter and other students.  We requested that our daughter simply come home to work where we could provide a quiet workspace with a computer and appropriate oversight since this was her last class period of the day.  That suggestion was immediately rejected by Millbrook.

Our daughter was then moved to the media center which was indeed quieter and more conducive to studying.  Over the following weeks, other AP students also moved to the media center.  However, there was a badly leaking roof right above our daughter’s assigned workstation and all the computers including hers were regularly commandeered by classes led by face-to-face teachers.  To solve for the leaky roof issue, our daughter routinely re-situated herself and her computer to avoid the drip location.  To solve for the inconsistent computer access, Millbrook ignored their agreement with NCVPS to provide an appropriate computer and workspace to all enrolled students, and suggested that each student bring a laptop to school.  We didn’t have a laptop we were able to have our daughter lug around and keep safe all day on top of everything else she carried.  So, she became increasingly skilled at cementing herself in front of her assigned computer despite demands that she give it up for some other class.  See, there’s value in her public education; it fosters grit and determination!

As it became clear that both of our daughter’s NCVPS courses were obstacles to learning, we begged Dana King and Vanessa Barnes to offer alternatives and/or get involved to demand that NCVPS do a better job for students. We had learned through our own diligent research that courses at community college and even private online courses were options.  But Vanessa Barnes, typically did not reply to our pleas, or when she did reply, it was days or weeks later and without any helpful alternatives.  By that time, it was too late for our daughter to switch to other options.  Dana King replied timely this go around but declined any assistance.  “My only recommendation is to reach out to whomever they (NCVPS) are accountable to, whoever does their hiring, evaluating, and programming audits and bring your concerns to them.  Those people could make changes in this virtual school if they so choose. They would also know if there are a lot of students …who are experiencing these frustrations or decide if this is an isolated situation.”, she told us.  Why didn’t we think of that!  Of course, NCVPS and DPI can make changes “if they so choose”, but why would they if principals around the state keep sending them students and demanding nothing in return?