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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Will Virtual Become Reality?

I traveled to North Warren Central School this morning. This small rural school district, located in the Adirondacks, is involved in its third year with a supplementary high school instructional program called Virtual High School ( This on-line learning system supplies a robust menu of over 200 different courses for learners to select from in pursuit of expanding their learning opportunities. North Warren engaged with the vendor supplying the program in response to concerns regarding the narrow curriculum their high school provided. Like Heatly, the scale of their enrollment and the restrictions of their budget prevented them from offering much more than the basic, minimum of courses. The district was interested in multiplying learning experiences for learners in an effort to better prepare them for the competition for admission to colleges of choice.

Similarly, Heatly is small (even smaller than North Warren) and we presently offer few electives beyond required courses. As a result, study halls abound. While study halls may be much appreciated in the short term by many in the high school, the idle time that may be characteristic for many does little to prepare them for developing an enriched portfolio of classes when seeking admission to college, and even less for preparing them for the rigors of academia once they gain entry to college. Therefore, we'd like to increase opportunities for those willing to make the commitment to invest the effort and energy necessary to reach their learning potential. We are examining the viability of the program, the cost of the program, and the practicality of the program in terms of meeting this perceived need. We would have to identify learners willing to interact with, and benefit from, on-line classes. In my opinion, we must grow opportunities to remain competitive in our business. We can no longer offer just the minimum of instructional experiences and preparation in an ever-changing world of increasing demands for success. Yesterday's solutions will not readily meet tomorrow's problems.

After interviewing high school learners, teachers, a guidance counselor, and the site coordinator from North Warren, I can conclude the following.

On-line classes are not for everyone. Self-discipline, time management, and organizational skills are expected and required for success. The classes are very challenging. The experiences enhance your transcripts when applying for colleges. The workload is demanding, particularly the Advanced Placement courses. A commitment is mandated (individuals actually sign, along with their parents, a "Document of Understanding" prior to acceptance into the classes). There is a committee to screen interested candidates. Learners are not required to be tech savvy - the software structure of the program is very user friendly. Classes would be instructed by certified teachers. These classes would not duplicate what we already provide at Heatly. The program is not intended to substitute classes for what we presently offer at Heatly, nor replace teachers. Grades would appear on the Heatly transcript.

We will continue to explore this program as we create our budget for next school year. This appears to be a worthy opportunity that could extend learning experiences. It would also advance our progress toward the goal of being a "small school with BIG ideas."

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