State keeps watch on Nyssa’s online school

The Nyssa School District will remain under state monitoring of its online school, where enrollment is expected to increase substantially this fall.
Nyssa’s operation of MyTechHigh, founded in 2022, has been under scrutiny by state education officials since not long after it opened.
Records of the state Education Department show concerns about teacher qualifications, student absenteeism and weaknesses in detecting when students are falling behind.
MyTechHigh operates on the web, with students enrolled in grades kindergarten to 8 getting lessons from classes broadcast online. They also advance through independent study using the online school.
Students using MyTechHigh, according to Kathleen Burbank, the district’s teacher of record in 2022, create a schedule from available courses and then submit a weekly log to their teacher about what they’ve learned and accomplished over the week.
Burbank told the Nyssa School Board during a 2022 presentation that the teacher responds to the students with a one-paragraph response that includes information about the upcoming week and what to focus on.
The online school has been a key source of new money for the Nyssa district. It collects state pay for each student regardless of where the student lives in the state.
Crystal Rideau, the district’s business manager, said Nyssa collected nearly $4.4 million in state funding for the online school.
While revenue is not listed in the budget, expenses are. This year, the district spent a little over $1.2 million on the virtual school, up from over $545,000 the previous year.
The issues with MyTechHigh continue as the district is still grappling with its migrant education program. That program, too, came under state scrutiny in part for enrolling ineligible families that resulted in unearned pay for the district.
State officials have been tight lipped about their concerns with the online school. Agency officials provided incomplete records about the matter through public records requests and wouldn’t directly address questions about state concerns.
The records show that in 2022 the state was alerted to concerns about the virtual school.
An improvement plan was initiated in 2023, according to public records provided by the Education Department. Such a plan requires changes by the Nyssa district.

For MyTech, the state is insisting that Nyssa teachers better work together and meet regularly to identify struggling students, reduce absenteeism and have better monitoring to detect students falling behind or otherwise in trouble. 

MyTech this year enrolled 425 students from kindergarten to eighth grade. It had no high school students, but Nyssa will continue to keep the high school designation. Hawkins said that the district would not enroll high school students in the near future. Hawkins said the district is mindful about meeting requirements and has been working with the state.

In Oregon, schools receive funding based off each student enrolled. Nyssa saw the largest increase in enrollment in Malheur County, with a 200-student jump according to the Education Department. Its annual enrollment report compared students from kindergarten to grade 12 in fall 2022 to fall 2023. 
Hawkins said the increased enrollment came through the online school.
Andrea Shunk, an education policy and practice strategist with the Oregon Education Association, the state’s teachers union, in May 2022 outlined to the state concerns that Nyssa administrators were getting bonuses for each student enrolled.
Shunk didn’t respond to a recent request for comment regarding whether the state education agency addressed her concerns.
Rylee Ahnen, the association’s public relations coordinator,wrote in an email that she wanted to have a “chat off the record” with the Enterprise to see if the organization could be “helpful.” She didn’t respond to additional requests for on-the-record comments.
Peter Rudy, public affairs specialist with the state education agency, said officials met with Shunk in 2022 to follow up on her email. He did not provide the results of that meeting.
Darren Johnson, negotiating his resignation as superintendent, attempted to negotiate a $30,000 bonus as part of his severance agreement in 2023. His attorney, Nathan Reitmann said the board agreed to pay Johnson that amount for his work on the virtual school. The board denied his request. According to Nyssa School Board meeting minutes from May 2022, Johnson asked the board not to pay him nor Hawkins for MyTech work.
Hawkins has said he wouldn’t accept any bonus related to online enrollment and that he has never been paid for MyTech work.
Jennifer Patterson, assistant superintendent at the Oregon Education Department, raised new concerns during a monitoring visit to the Nyssa school system in February.
According to agency records obtained through a public records request, Patterson learned of the “absence of a licensed teacher of record” for MyTechHigh, enrollment by out-of-state students and a curriculum that didn’t meet state guidelines.
Hawkins said the virtual school has always been staffed with certified teachers and that Nyssa reviews Oregon standards to determine classes and curriculum. 
Meanwhile, the state education agency is monitoring Nyssa closely and the district is working with the Malheur Education Service District to get the online school into compliance.
The improvement plan is tied to High School Success Act funding, which sets benchmarks for ensuring students are kept on track to graduate on time, maintain regular attendance and have access to support.
Nyssa’s administrators have projected enrollment to jump to 600 students, state education agency records note.
Education Department officials wrote in March, “How are students doing? How do we know they are being tracked (given large enrollment).” 
Another concern from state officials is ensuring the district is not receiving state money for students outside of Oregon. It’s unclear how the state is tracking those metrics. 

News tip? Send your information to [email protected].

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE – The Malheur Enterprise delivers quality local journalism – fair and accurate. You can read it any hour, any day with a digital subscription. Read it on your phone, your Tablet, your home computer. Click subscribe – $7.50 a month.