In Learn Outside the Lines, we feature school districts with successful online and blended learning programs, like Wooster City Schools, which has seen great success district-wide. Just last week, Wooster City High School earned the silver medal ranking for “Best High Schools” by U.S. News & World Report. Wooster earned the ranking for its student performance in Reading and Math proficiency, and for college readiness.
We recently spoke to Wooster and other Ohio educators about what worked well for their online and blended programs. Wooster’s success is not limited to the high school’s blended learning options, but is also part and parcel of the General’s Online Academy, its new full-time online school that launched in the fall of 2014.
We spoke with Rebecca Furlong, Director of Technology, about Wooster’s motivation for launching the General’s Online Academy and how they overcame some of the challenges of implementing a new personalized learning program:
Learn Outside the Lines (LOtL): What motivated you to establish/get involved in the creation of your online learning institution?
Rebecca Furlong (RF): We have had an Alternative Education program at Wooster for over 10 years. We were starting to see a trend of students who did not respond to the format of that program and were leaving our district and enrolling in online programs. This motivated us to design a new alternative program with these key components:
- Utilize an online curriculum equal in quality and rigor to what was being taught in our traditional classrooms
- Ensure that students are being taught by our own Wooster teachers
- Assign each student a mentor and design a personalized learning plan that offered both blended and all online options
- Provide students who desire access to a full Wooster High School experience including athletics and clubs
Our ultimate goal is to keep students in the Wooster City School District where we believe they are able to receive a world class education!
LOtL: Now that you’ve implemented the program and have experienced some challenges as well as successes, what practical advice would you give others as they set out to do the same?
RF: Visit other schools and ask lots of questions. Do not underestimate the importance of choosing the right people, the right space, and the right curriculum for your program. If you take shortcuts in these areas, you will struggle to get respect and it may affect your ability to grow. Include all stakeholders in your research and decision-making process.
Success of this type of program involves teachers, students, parents, guidance counselors, registrars, administration and many others.
LOtL: Can you share some of your successful moments?
RF: My favorite moments happen when I visit the General’s Academy and see the students. The environment is incredibly supportive, and students are engaged and learning. I am also proud of the work that our teachers are doing. They are always actively participating in the education of their students. In a traditional classroom a teacher does not often have the ability to sit with a student or small group of students to help explain a concept or clear up misconceptions; however, with an online curriculum and flexible learning environment, our teachers can do this daily both online and face to face in the General’s Academy.