PULASKI COUNTY, Ark – The Pulaski County Special School District says enrollment for its virtual academy has tripled in just the first week of school.
With the additional students, the district says now they’re having a problem having enough teachers to help with instruction.
“I don’t think I had fully all-out committed or decided, I mean it was about a week before school started,” Heather Disarro who enrolled both of her children in PCSSD’s Driven Virtual Academy said.
Disarro is one of the hundreds of parents who made a last-minute decision about the virtual academy.
“It just felt like it was going to be a really good mash-up,” Disarro said.
Leslie Ireland is the principal at the academy. She says she first started noticing a jump in enrollment numbers at the beginning of August.
“We went from a little less than 200 being enrolled to well over 500 asking to get in,” Ireland said.
Ireland said after the first week, enrollment is now up to 800 with another 50 students on the waitlist.
She says she thinks the increase is due to rising COVID cases and hospitalizations among children.
“Our major struggle right now is trying to ensure that we have enough certified teachers in place,” Ireland said.
Ireland said they weren’t preparing for 800 students when they were hiring teachers in the summer. Now they have to increase class sizes to accommodate the growing enrollment.
“Right now it’s about 1 teacher per 40 students,” Ireland said.
Ireland said usually the teacher to student ratio is 1 to 25.
Ireland says she still wants to accommodate as many students as they can as COVID cases stay up.
“We definitely want to listen to what [parent] needs are,” Ireland said.
Until they can hire more teachers though, enrollment will stay at 800.
If they can hire more, that’s when they will start pulling students off the waitlist.
Ireland said they have reached out to universities and other employers to try and find interested teachers.