Distance Learning

Country's Oldest State Virtual School Turns 20

When Florida formally launched Florida High School in 1997, no other state had attempted such an undertaking. That first year the school delivered six courses, led by six teachers and backed up with four staff members. Those pioneers handled advising and counseling, developed the course curriculum, met with high schools and lobbied with lawmakers to continue funding its work. To market the school, staff would set up physical lemonade stands at area high schools to let people know it existed.

Since that first academic year, when it had 77 semester completions, the school (since renamed the Florida Virtual School) has reported delivering 3.6 million semester courses. During those years the reasons students cite for taking online courses haven't varied much: They want to make up credits to graduate on schedule; they want to accelerate their progress or take courses when homebound or traveling; they want to get into classes that aren't available owing to scheduling conflicts or that aren't offered at their home schools; or they have better outcomes in a different learning environment.

FLVS has 1,400 certified instructors, and its students may pick from a catalog of 150 courses. It has also broken the state boundaries by allowing students in other states to take classes under tuition arrangements. By 2001 the school received its first full accreditation, and, three years later, in 2004, it began offering middle school classes. By 2015 elementary courses were added as well.

One of those original instructors, Jennifer Whiting, recently shared her memories of those early days. Whiting started as a chemistry teacher; now she's the chief technology innovation officer. As she recalled, that initial group of adults spent five months learning as much as they could about teaching online "from any source we could find." She said those early curriculum-building efforts were laughable. "I had built about two years' worth of content. Oh, it was amazing content, but completely un-doable in a nine-month period."

When Florida formally launched Florida High School in 1997, no other state had attempted such an undertaking.

Source: Florida Virtual School

Whiting said her "loyalty to this organization is so high, that I cannot imagine leaving. I intend to retire from here in a few years, but my devotion to what we have built here will never end.... Watching FLVS grow and mature has been a shining point of my life."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.