When it comes to learning, every student has different needs. The challenge for each school district is to provide a learning environment that accommodates differing learning styles and ensures the best educational experience for every student. This often requires districts to consider alternatives including blended learning approaches, charter schools, and virtual environments.
In this exclusive interview with Keith Wilson, Principal of the Lawrence Virtual School, we get his perspective on tailoring school options for every student in a virtual learning environment. In many cases, it is not only about the curriculum that is provided through online courses, but it is ensuring that students experience a learning environment that fits into their personal situation. Lawrence Virtual School provides that experience by leveraging technology and understanding that a tailored experience is critical to success.
Q: Tell us about your position.
A: I’m the Principal of the Lawrence Virtual School, a school in the Lawrence Public Schools district in Kansas. We are a virtual charter school focused on grades kindergarten through 12th grade with a total of 1,500 students.
Q: Tell us about the challenge of tailoring educational options for each student.
A: The ultimate experience is being able to serve families in unique settings with unique needs. While academic success is a measure of our programs, it is as important that we serve families by meeting their specific needs. We can accommodate these needs through our online learning programs. We are working with the largest provider and have the largest virtual school in the State of Kansas, so we benefit from the economies of scale.
Yet, despite our size and because of our online learning solutions, we’re able to give our school community individualized learning programs. In this case, smaller is smarter. In other words, we have "schools of one" all over the State of Kansas—consisting of one child, one family—and we’re able to break things down into smaller pieces, which is much smarter for the families and the students. For example, we were able to provide a student a full-time online program she could take from home, which was especially important to her, as her father was dealing with cancer. It is truly about individualization of instruction through the use of technology.
Q: From an online learning perspective, what are your top two to three priorities for the next school year?
A: We believe we can use online learning to address student attitudes about their ability to meet their academic goals. To be able to adjust those attitudes and get them focused on the end game is really the key to success.
The second area we want to address is how we understand the individual environments for each student, so we can better service their needs. Family units are unique today from blended families to single-parent families, or children living with grandparents. Each environmental difference requires a certain level of support. We want to try to establish a network of support for like-minded and similar type families.
Q: How do you determine success?
A: A famous quote from Field of Dreams is: “If you build it, they will come.” I take that a step further to say, “If you build it, they’ll come; if you maintain it, they’ll stay.” The success of our school comes from students returning year after year, after year. It is our greatest source of advertisement for future families to come and join us.
I can sit here and talk statistics about growth and student achievement, but it is really about how we are maintaining and building a program that will service the families in Kansas. And it’s through the use of technology and the expertise of our vendor that develops the online programs—and the people that support those programs—that we ensure our students’ success.