Voices, a Podcast from the Seneca Valley School District

Episode 54 - An Introduction to OPT with Mr. Matt Pournaras

December 14, 2021 Seneca Valley School District Season 2 Episode 54
Voices, a Podcast from the Seneca Valley School District
Episode 54 - An Introduction to OPT with Mr. Matt Pournaras
Show Notes Transcript

An Introduction to OPT with Mr. Matt Pournaras

Mr. Matt Pournaras, Seneca Valley Academy of Choice (SVAOC) Outreach Program for Technology (OPT) Coordinator/Trainer 

Matt Pournaras is in his eighteenth year teaching at Seneca Valley.  He has been a part of the SV Academy of Choice for ten years as both a teacher, administrator and coordinator. He has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education from Westminster College,  a Master’s degree and an online teaching certificate from Clarion University. 

• What is OPT
• What type of learning happens through OPT
• What the advantages are to those Districts who join OPT
• What courses/programs are available to students whose Districts are a part of OPT
• How to learn more about OPT


 Voices E54 Matt Pournaras


File Name: Voices E54 Matt Pournaras.mp3

File Length: 00:16:48


FULL TRANSCRIPT (with timecode)


00:00:02:27 - 00:00:10:06

Introduction: Welcome to Voices, a National Award-winning podcast brought to you by the Seneca Valley School District. 


00:00:11:11 - 00:00:22:02

Jeff Krakoff: This is Jeff Krakoff. We're talking with Matt Pournaras, who is the OPT coordinator with Seneca Valley's Academy of Choice. Thanks for talking with us this morning. 


00:00:22:13 - 00:00:23:16

Matt Pournaras: Oh, thanks for having me, Jeff. 


00:00:23:28 - 00:00:29:22

Jeff Krakoff: So why don't you just start with a little bit of background? How long have you been with the district and with the Academy of Choice? 


00:00:30:06 - 00:01:01:29

Matt Pournaras: Well, I've this is my 18th year in the district, which I can't believe it's been that long, but it is. But it's my 18th year at Seneca Valley School District, started teaching at Rowan Elementary, second grade, first grade and then it's been actually my 10th year now that I've been a part of the Seneca Valley Academy of Choice. I started in with the academy as a teacher. I was the K-6 cyber teacher and that's where I started with the academy. And then from there I moved on to be the position that I am now. 


00:01:02:01 - 00:01:20:29

Matt Pournaras: As I worked my way through being a teacher, there was definitely a need for as we'll talk in a second about the OPT program. And exactly it needed a a coordinator, someone to basically take a stronghold on the program and really lead it to its next step. And that's really what my goal is and what I'm trying to do each and every day. 


00:01:21:20 - 00:01:31:22

Jeff Krakoff: OK, so in case there's anybody listening that's new to the district or unaware, what is the Seneca Valley Academy of Choice and what is the OPT program? 


00:01:32:06 - 00:01:52:04

Matt Pournaras: Sure. Well, the Seneca Valley Academy of Choice is our public school, Seneca Valley, our cyber program. And what we've created is the OPT program, which is the outreach program for technology. And the long and short of it is that it is a cyber program that we can provide for other districts throughout the state. 


00:01:52:12 - 00:01:52:27

Jeff Krakoff: Mm-Hmm. 


00:01:53:04 - 00:02:08:00

Matt Pournaras: So we've basically given our given our resources and our opportunities that we initially created here at Seneca Valley, and our outreach is now going to other schools to allow them to have those same opportunities through a cyber learning platform. 


00:02:08:24 - 00:02:41:27

Matt Pournaras: It gives them a quality education. It's an asynchronous education, which for those who might not know asynchronous, is basically giving the students the flexibility and option to learn at their own pace. They have the ability to work when and how often they want on a daily basis. Now, obviously, we give them recommendations on how to work through the system properly and through our platforms. But it does give them some flexibility in their schedules for various reasons. 


00:02:42:13 - 00:02:56:28

Matt Pournaras: Obviously, everything that's going on and in the world recently. You know, we give the students that flexibility, but we still want to make sure that we provide them a quality education and provide them those various learning opportunities that they need. 


00:02:57:09 - 00:03:04:08

Jeff Krakoff: All right. Well, Matt, you mentioned learning opportunities. What kinds of learning takes place through the program? 


00:03:04:21 - 00:03:29:07

Matt Pournaras: Well, the OPT program is run through two platforms. We have two platforms that run our whole system. The first one is Compass or Compass Learning Odyssey, and that's what drives our K-4  program. Compass started as a supplemental program that we initially used in the district, probably around when I got got started around 15 years ago. And what we did is we took that platform and we created 


00:03:31:06 - 00:04:01:10

Matt Pournaras: basically a normal school day all the way up to a nine weeks, a semester, a full year through that platform, following the state standards and making sure that we have basically all of our bases covered. Where what we did is we took some teachers out of the traditional setting and basically pulled them. At that point, that was me as a second grade teacher and first grade teacher coming into the program and building it into what it is today and walking through. 


00:04:01:12 - 00:04:34:08

Matt Pournaras: if I were a second grade student, for example, what would my day look like? What subjects would I cover or what certain standards would I hit? What things do we need to discuss? And that's what we built through Compass. And again, that's our K-4 platform. And then moving forward, we have at Edgenuity. Edgenuity is the home base of our 5-12 program. So we've done the exact same thing through Edgenuity that we did through a as we built a class, whether it be a nine weeks class, a trimester, a semester. 


00:04:35:05 - 00:05:26:09

Matt Pournaras: As you know, in Seneca Valley right now, our K-6 students work through trimesters. So in our 7-12 still work through nine weeks and semesters. So we've done the work on the back end to make sure that what they're doing online allows them to match what's going in that traditional setting. And what we've also done is we've really had to make that match as best we can tell what's going on in the classroom due to the flexibility of cyber. And there are times where students decide that they're ready to go back into the classroom for whatever reason. And there's other times where kids decide to leave the traditional classroom and come into cyber. So we want to make sure that they mash the mesh up and match up as well as possible. So there's no gaps in the students learning. Moving back and forth between the systems. 


00:05:26:19 - 00:05:36:12

Jeff Krakoff: OK, so are all traditional course areas programs available via the OPT cyber program or is it more limited? 


00:05:37:21 - 00:06:22:10

Matt Pournaras: Well, there's actually more to be honest that gives that flexibility of giving so many options. For instance, in the 7-12 room, we have an entire program of studies that we provide to our partnering districts that we allow them to look through and obviously show to their students and saying, if you're choosing the cyber route, which is great, here's the options that are available that are available to you. Now, obviously, we have English seven, pre-algebra, you know, adventures in world history seven They would normally take in a traditional setting, but there's other electives that are out there, something like a digital programming or an anatomy or sociology that maybe it wouldn't be something that students would have the opportunity to fit into their schedule. 


00:06:22:19 - 00:06:54:25

Matt Pournaras: But cyber provides that to them. Now, obviously, we can't go in and load 12 courses for a student. We know that's not healthy for anyone as a learner. But we do give them the opportunity and make sure that they're ready for a cyber-type learning. We even have basic courses such as online digital citizenship to allow students to take a course like that, experience the program and decide, Is this really the right fit for me? Because to be honest, there's some students that come into the program and it's just not a right fit. 


00:06:55:21 - 00:07:32:01

Matt Pournaras: And we have to be honest with them, and they have to be honest with themselves because the main goal here is for them to be successful and them to be able to learn and grow from the cyber experience just like they wouldn't in a traditional setting. Then the same thing goes in the K-4 realm is we've created your core classes because obviously when you're in elementary school, you're not taking electives. So they're taking their math their E.L.A. Their writing social sciences. And the other thing that we've developed for our K to six students, because students take specials, they take art, they take CIRC, they take physical education. 


00:07:32:13 - 00:08:06:20

Matt Pournaras: We make sure that those are still covered as well. Those are still important pieces of a student's learning growing up. So we've actually created logs for our K-6 students that allows them to be flexible and creative with their opportunities and specials. They don't necessarily have to learn to play the guitar to cover their musical hours if they can, if they want to that's great. Maybe they take piano lessons, but they can also learn something about that that genre in music by listening to an orchestra or attending the Pittsburgh Symphony. 


00:08:07:17 - 00:08:19:15

Matt Pournaras: You know, going to an art class somewhere is just as great as learning from an art teacher in the traditional setting. So these cyber students have those outside the school resources that they can reach out to. 


00:08:21:19 - 00:08:30:00

Jeff Krakoff: Sounds like a lot of options for people. How many school districts are working with you in this op program? Roughly. 


00:08:31:00 - 00:09:01:16

Matt Pournaras: It definitely varies and definitely varies on how much they need us. We have around 75 school districts throughout the state that work with us, whether it is where we are teacher of record and we are able to provide our teachers outside of our regular school day to help educate these students and lead them in the right direction and stay on, you know, on top of them, make sure they're following their assignment calendar and they're taking the right courses, and that takes a lot of work. 


00:09:02:15 - 00:09:35:29

Matt Pournaras: With whoever the point of contact is that that home district. But then there's other districts where that point of contact is on top of everything and they have their own teachers that are teaching these classes. And that's a little bit of a little bit about what my position has become as the coordinator. I'm also very much a trainer as well, where because I've been with the program for 10 years, I'm very fluent with Compass and with Edgenuity, so I'm able to jump on a Zoom or TEAMs call, you know, a Google Meet. 


00:09:36:01 - 00:10:08:19

Matt Pournaras: Whatever the case is, we're obviously very flexible with technology as we should be as in the cyber realm. But we have the opportunity to go in and I can meet with 20 teachers, I can meet with three administrators. And the beauty of just like we're doing our discussion right now is the ability to record things. So the ability for me to walk through a training and record the entire thing and share that with someone that maybe wasn't in the cyber program a few days ago, but a new teacher was hired. So I can say, Oh, I have this great training. 


00:10:08:21 - 00:10:26:12

Matt Pournaras: I walked through X, Y and Z. Take a look at it and then let me know if you have any questions. So that allows me to have again to reach out to everybody that I need to. Whether it's a training that I made for an administrator or a training I make for a teacher that's coming in to teach in cyber. 


00:10:26:21 - 00:10:34:25

Jeff Krakoff: OK, so you mentioned about 75 school districts in Pennsylvania. Is this open only to Pennsylvania schools? 


00:10:34:28 - 00:10:44:10

Matt Pournaras: It is. The reason being is obviously, as we built this program and are continually growing it daily is that we're following the PA state's standards. 


00:10:44:12 - 00:10:44:27

Jeff Krakoff: Got it. 


00:10:45:05 - 00:11:07:09

Matt Pournaras: These are courses that we just decided, Oh, we'll just throw this together and that. Obviously,  we have standards to follow just as a truly traditional teacher. And we do the same with our cyber classes. A beauty of this job is that, you know, as a traditional teacher in one building, I would focus on obviously the people in my building, aside from some in-service trainings and things like that. 


00:11:07:20 - 00:11:43:29

Matt Pournaras: But as I became the cyber teacher and the coordinator is that I get to work with teachers across the entire district because I don't always want to get all of my input from one teacher. I understand that every teacher is going to touch on different subjects differently, and I want to get the insight of all of those teachers so that I can put as much rigor into the courses that we're creating, not only for our Seneca students, but for these OPT students as well. We want to make sure that they are getting the highest quality education as they can through the cyber choice that they've made or the traditional choice. 


00:11:44:22 - 00:11:53:14

Matt Pournaras: You know, we're not saying that one is better than the other, but the two really need to work together to make sure that the students are educated properly and getting that quality education. 


00:11:54:09 - 00:12:07:02

Jeff Krakoff: Well, it sounds like you're talking with a lot of teachers that a lot of different school districts from from hearing back from them. What do you think are the main advantages for those districts to join the OPT program? 


00:12:07:24 - 00:12:47:15

Matt Pournaras: Well, to be honest, it does usually start with money. You know, there there are other cyber options out there. Outside of Seneca Valley Cyber Program, parents do have the option to go outside of their home school district to choose a cyber option, and that's the option that they have. Obviously, I'm very passionate and feel strong about our program, what we have to offer. One thing that we definitely strive to let these parents know is that the beauty of having a cyber program in-house in a public school is that those students get a home district diploma. 


00:12:48:08 - 00:13:25:12

Matt Pournaras: So by these students, if they choose to go elsewhere again, they have that option. But by going through our cyber program, those students will graduate with a Seneca Valley diploma. I'm not from Seneca Valley, I didn't graduate from Seneca Valley, but I know how much weight and pride it is to have a Seneca Valley diploma. I know that means a lot just from talking to past students and obviously the teachers and administrators. But that's definitely one thing also with another district. The same thing goes with that is that they're taking these cyber courses through Seneca Valley, but they're getting a diploma from their home district. 


00:13:26:08 - 00:14:09:08

Matt Pournaras: And like I said, there's some pride in that. I'm proud to get my got my high school diploma from Ambridge Area School District, and that's something that I'll hold with me forever. And I'm glad I had that opportunity. And I want to give that same opportunity to students and whether it's in other districts or at Seneca Valley. And again, they won't get a diploma that says Seneca Valley Cyber. It's a Seneca Valley High School diploma or from, you know, if it was another district, it would say again that specific district's diploma, not something that says, Oh, they were a. Cyber student, that right, there's no difference in that, basically cyber in Seneca Valley, traditional is one in the same. 


00:14:09:18 - 00:14:23:12

Jeff Krakoff: Yeah, and that's great. So let me ask you this if I'm a parent or a student at Seneca Valley or I'm with another district interested in learning more about the cyber or the OPT program? Or how do I get in touch with and who? 


00:14:24:02 - 00:14:59:15

Matt Pournaras: Sure. No. I mean, the first thing, if you're listening to this and you are outside of the Seneca Valley District, I would definitely recommend that you speak to someone in the administrative role at your school district or at your child's building. You can call me directly. I'd gladly give you all the information, but really, it comes down to an agreement with your home district, with Seneca Valley to make that partnership. Again, we've done so many different things and our our principal, Denise Manganello, has done an amazing job building this program up the last 10 to 15 years to what it is today. 


00:15:00:15 - 00:15:35:26

Matt Pournaras: But I would definitely recommend anyone outside to definitely reach out to their own administrator or administration in the building. The other way is very simple to go to our website. Whether you're a Seneca Valley parent or outside the Seneca Valley website is very easy to navigate by going to that main page www.Svsd.Net. You see our main page and right below the Seneca Valley School District crest. You see that you can select a school there and as you go to select the school, the first option underneath the district is SVAOC or Academy of Choice. 


00:15:36:07 - 00:16:00:27

Matt Pournaras: It even says in parentheses cyber just to make sure that it's a little clear that way. And as they click on that, as the tabs run across the top, there is one that says partnering schools OPT. And that is an easy way. You click on that tab. My information is there. My email address pournarasma@svsd.Net and my phone number as well with my extension. So that's probably the easiest way is 724-452-6040, my extension 1015. 


00:16:07:20 - 00:16:18:06

Matt Pournaras: I'd be happy to direct you exactly where you need to go and give you all the information that you need and hopefully get you and your child, obviously on the right path to make the best educational decision. 


00:16:18:23 - 00:16:23:05

Jeff Krakoff: All right. Well, thanks. We've just learned so much in such a short period of time. 


00:16:23:17 - 00:16:31:09

Matt Pournaras: There's so much to it. But again, it's something that I'm passionate about. And again, if there are questions that's the best way to reach us and we'd be happy to share more with you. 


00:16:31:18 - 00:16:42:09

Jeff Krakoff: All right. Well, that again, that was Matt Pournaras, who's the OPT coordinator at the Academy of Choice at Seneca Valley. Thanks so much for spending time with us and have a great rest of your day. 


00:16:42:19 - 00:16:44:02

Matt Pournaras: Thank you, Jeff. Same to you. Take care. 


00:16:44:09 - 00:16:44:25

Jeff Krakoff: You, too.