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Pulaski County Special School District board members on Tuesday approved the ongoing employment of a Salt Lake City education consultant to help with the district's online instructional programs, including a new K-12 virtual academy.

The School Board voted 5-0 for the three-year contract for Kenneth Grover, a former principal of the Innovations Early College High School in his Utah hometown.

Grover will be paid up to $110,400 a year for three years, plus travel expenses that are capped at $2,000 a month and meals capped at $45 a day.

District Superintendent Charles McNulty described the contract with Grover as "flexible," in that either party can opt out when the partnership runs its course.

"Right now we certainly need expertise in establishing rigorous blended school opportunities," McNulty said. "He's been great," he added about Grover.

The new contract is a continuation of a partnership that started in 2017 between the district and Grover to develop what has become the district's fledgling Driven initiative.

Driven is a blend of online and traditional classroom instruction that gives participating high school students more flexibility in scheduling and in the pace of their individual learning. This school year marks the first year of Driven as an instructional option for ninth- and 10th-graders at Mills High and ninth-graders at Maumelle High.

The Driven component will be started as a option for students at Robinson High in the coming 2019-20 school year and at Sylvan Hills High the next year.

The schools are classified by the state Department of Education as schools of innovation, enabling them to provide the Driven program.

The district paid Grover $124,822 for his work in 2017 and 2018, Chief Financial Officer Denise Palmer said.

McNulty and his staff, with advice and professional training from Grover, are now setting up a kindergarten-through-12th grade virtual academy that will initially market to families who would otherwise home school their children.

Over time, academy planners want to open what will be known as the Driven Academy -- with its online instruction and support from certified teachers -- to families beyond the district borders, Rachel Blackwell, the district's instructional technology facilitator, said.

The School Board last month authorized district leaders to enter contract negotiations with the Epic Charter Schools of Tulsa and Oklahoma City to be the academic content and technology providers for the Driven virtual school. However, McNulty said in an interview this week that the district is continuing to evaluate different vendors for the services.

"We are still vetting," McNulty said. "As everything unfolds, we are looking at our options because we want to make sure that the organizations that we partner with fit well with the mission of the Pulaski County Special School District. We are having dialogue with a number of vendors."

Blackwell said the district is also still working to determine what kinds of waivers of state rules and laws will be necessary for the Driven Academy. Applications for waivers have not yet been submitted to the state.

"It's important for us to do it right," McNulty said.

State law enables traditional school districts to obtain waivers of rules and laws that were previously granted to open-enrollment charter schools. Or school districts can obtain waivers by having a school labeled by the state as a school of innovation or a conversion charter school.

The early partnership between the district and Grover, included visits by Pulaski County special district leaders to Salt Lake City's Innovations Early College High School, which Grover headed from its start in 2012 until his leaving in December 2017. The school is part of a Career and Technical Education Center and also attached to a community college.

After Grover's resignation as principal, The Salt Lake Tribune newspaper reported in March 2018 that Grover had inflated the graduation rates from the Innovations high school and had used district money -- without appropriate approval -- to pay tuition for Innovations School students in community college classes. The newspaper also reported that at least one Salt Lake City School Board member said she was unaware of the creation of the Innovations school until it was ready to operate.

Grover was reported in the Salt Lake City newspaper as saying that the Innovations School expenditures were approved by former administrators of the school system.

Grover didn't return a phone message Tuesday afternoon.

McNulty said this week he was unaware of the newspaper articles containing criticism of Grover's work in Salt Lake City.

Metro on 03/13/2019

Print Headline: Pulaski County Special School District keeps tie to adviser

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