Creating a virtual school is a tremendous undertaking in the best of times. Creating one during a pandemic, requires gumption.
I knew developing a virtual platform from the ground up would be the most ambitious undertaking of my 25-year career. It would require a team of experts with a passion for outside-the-box teaching. Fortunately, our district had no shortage of talented educators willing to take on the task.
As the principal of specialized programs for Bullitt County Public Schools, providing customized educational opportunities for students is my top priority. I visualized an educational platform that would give them an opportunity to complete most of their school career in a virtual setting. The big challenge was to create a learning environment that was as personal and effective as traditional instruction. My goal was to give our students and staff the opportunity to craft their educational environment together. We believe we have succeeded in building a virtual experience that is every bit as worthwhile as in person instruction.
Over the past year, I had the opportunity to speak with many fellow administrators planning their own virtual school. The advice I give may sound simplistic, but it works: value your teachers as experts, and in turn, they will value their role as professionals. When teachers know they are supported, they have the focus and drive needed to instruct effectively.
Figuring out the “secret sauce,” as I call it, is not complicated. Simply find the best instructors and be available for them as they work to meet the needs of our students. Recognizing teachers as the professionals they are allows students to reap the rewards. When teachers are encouraged to channel their energies into creating a personalized learning experience, the result is a healthy classroom community where students and teachers alike buy in as learners. Recruiting 13 teachers and a rock star instructional coach, Dominic McCamish, gave us the foundation for what would become the Bullitt Virtual Learning Academy (BVLA).
Starting the building process with highly skilled educators made the virtual platform possible but working together made it thrive. Developing a playbook and requiring staff to follow along has never been my style. Keeping the program on track requires input from every team member. I would never assume to know more about day to day instruction than my team of expert educators.
Knowing that our basic process would be guided by our district’s graduate profile kept us grounded. The graduate profile elements we desired for BVLA were: effective communicator, innovative problem solver, productive collaborator, self-directed navigator, community contributor and mastery learner. We agreed these elements would guide our work while creating lanes to keep us moving toward common outcomes. Our focus on the social and emotional learning process encourages self-management, positive relationships and responsible decision making.
I am blessed to have the opportunity to collaborate within a community that embraces virtual learning. The teachers have worked tirelessly to ensure that this program has been a success. Our team has done amazing work in the first year and we are looking forward to planning our second year of BVLA, where futures are created.
Danny Clemens is currently the Principal of Specialized Programs for Bullitt County Public Schools. In this multifaceted role, he oversees several district platforms including Bullitt County’s new virtual learning academy, known as BVLA. His wide-ranging career spans 25 years and includes serving as a principal at all levels and as assistant principal for both high school and elementary. He has also worked as a high school and middle school guidance counselor, college and career readiness leader, and classroom teacher. He credits these varied experiences, in both inner city and suburban settings, for the development of his passion for customization in educational programming.