Lenoir City's iLearn offers virtual learning

Chris Smallen, Lenoir City Schools chief technology officer and iLearn Institute administrator, showcases the program’s new website that recently went live.

Lenoir City Schools is ramping up its iLearn Institute in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The online program allows for virtual classes, credit recovery and homeschooling.

Lenoir City Schools Chief Technology Officer Chris Smallen said the program has experienced growth after a simple start. In fall 2016, five courses were offered. For high school alone, he estimates there are now 55-56 offerings.

“We’ve come a long way but we can get a kid all the way out the door, so to speak, if they want to and offer advanced placement offerings, honors designations, all that kind of stuff,” he said.

While in years past the focus has been on Loudon County students, Smallen said the program is being actively promoted for bordering counties.

“We felt like at this point in time that we’ve had the full-time program for a couple of years, we’ve got more teacher partners that are really used to using this software tools and making contact with the parents at home and following all that kind of good stuff that we can kind of branch out,” he said. “We’ve took kids that were outside of Loudon County last year — it was just if they called in and said, ‘Hey, this is an option,’ then we’d have discussion about it. We hadn’t really marketed that until right now.”

Growing iLearn has been a goal since the beginning.

“We really believe in taking our time here and making sure that we’re successful with something before we let it get too big,” he said. “A lot of school systems try to do this. I had a ton of phone calls over the summer asking me how we do this from other school districts and they said, ‘You create all of this in one summer?’ I said, ‘Lord no, we’ve been working on this since 2016, and if you’re planning on making this happen in the next two months then that’s a bit of a stretch.’ We wanted it to grow.”

Similar programs have gone statewide. That’s not in the cards just yet, Smallen said.

“We don’t want to go there yet because if we do those and have a situation like that then we have to provide testing centers for state testing in Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee and that’s just beyond what we want to do right now,” he said.

Smallen believes interest will be higher for iLearn this year. Of the 37 applicants so far, he said four have been specifically due to COVID-19.

“Typically what we end up with are it’s a wide range of things,” he said. “Kids have high anxiety, they don’t like big crowds in school. They may have medical issues. We take a lot of medical issues where kids can’t show up for long periods of time. Pregnancies, high school pregnancies, come over to iLearn to finish out. It’s a wide variety of everything under the sun why people are interested in this program. We try to be very, very flexible with it.”

Operations should not be impacted even if COVID-19 remains an issue in the fall.

“We are committed to providing the best possible learning environment for all students and iLearn provides a different learning opportunity for some families,” Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, said in an email correspondence. “Parents agree to provide oversight of student learning.”

Smallen said applications should be turned in preferably by Aug. 6 but no later than Aug. 13. For more information on the kindergarten through 12th-grade program, visit https://ilearn.lenoircityschools.com/.

“When they do come into iLearn we ask that they make at least a semester-long commitment,” Smallen said. “We don’t like to bounce kids back and forth between the physical school and the virtual school midstream in the semester.”