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Visionary and Committed Leadership:
Julie Young, Executive Director of The Florida Online High School

April 2001

"The Florida Online High School began four years ago to serve students who were looking for different or supplemental course not available in the traditional schools, and to provide rural schools with Advanced Placement courses available in more populated communities. We grew out of a unique partnership between two school districts, Alachua and Orange counties, which were looking for solutions to provide their students with a higher quality of education. This lead to a management structure based on a democratic decision-making process rather than the traditional "top down" approach typical for school. When we began, we had two principals, two school boards, and one overarching advisory board. This management framework made it challenging to provide the school's staff and students with the necessary leadership for success.

For almost two years, the joint leadership team shared responsibilities, including lobbying efforts to secure state funding as well as the day-to-day operations of the school. However, as our school evolved and grew, this management structure proved challenging, and we decided that changes were needed. The operation of the school was evaluated and a needs assessment was conducted. The result was a restructuring of the leadership team to a more business oriented organizational chart, establishing a point-person to manage the school, teachers, and students.

We quickly learned that effective leadership was essential if we were going to meet our objectives of using technology to provide alternative learning and advanced educational opportunities to students. Understanding that managing a virtual team requires strong leadership from every member of the team and open communications, we have worked hard on building the team using a number of methods. As the Executive Director, I rely on my management team to handle most of the day-to-day operations, which allows me to focus on where the school will be in the future and on solving challenges. The following operating principles have helped me lead our school and have kept us focused on our mission:

  1. Always provide guidance to everyone on the staff.

  2. Look for the right people with the right skills who can thrive in a virtual environment.

  3. Build and mobilize the team; keep them thinking, acting and moving together.

  4. Be very flexible and try not to micromanage how your team is operating.

  5. Look at results; don't worry about tracking time.

  6. Gather new ideas from teachers.

  7. Approach every situation as a signature of oneself; encourage discussion and disagreement without negative undertones.

  8. Keep an open door and address all problems, but request individuals raising the issues to also try to bring solutions.

  9. Continuously reinvent how things are done so that the competitive edge is always sharp.

Operating principles aside, we have had to overcome a number of challenges. Being a nontraditional school, we've had to build and prove the credibility of the courses offered at The Florida Online High School. We have established a virtual team that has had to adjust the way they are accustomed to teaching and we've had to build necessary student support mechanism, such as guidance counselors. Even while we continue to wrestle with some of the issues, especially as technology changes and our student population grows, we are encouraged by our accomplishments.

  • Of the students taking The College Board Advanced Placement courses through FHS, 73% scored a 3 or above on a 5 point scale, meaning they qualify for college credit.

  • Of the 73% of FHS students who passed the AP exam, 38% received 5's, the highest possible score.

  • FHS outscored the national averages on AP exams in three out of four courses: Biology, Computer Science, and English.

  • Grade distribution of all FHS students during the 1999-2000 school year shows 79% earned either an A or B, and only four percent earned an F.

  • Eighty-nine percent of participating students say the quality of their FHS course is the same, better, or much better than regular high school courses.

Because of our virtual existence, we will always have a heavy reliance on technology. However, this doesn't change how our school leadership embraces, learns, and integrates technology. Our leadership team places special emphasis on making sure all team members have the support and professional development to fully utilize technology as a learning tool for instruction. We have established some guidelines to help guide our daily activities, build our virtual school community, and provide an adequate level of technical support to teachers as well as school leaders and administrators:

  1. Everyone in the school has to be willing to admit there's a learning curve involved, and commit themselves to learn and value how technology can enhance learning.

  2. School leaders have to demonstrate, as well as articulate, their commitment to integrating technology. During training sessions, administrators, superintendents, and principals all should be in the middle of teachers involved in the training, even if its Windows or email.

  3. Be a role model and lead by example. For example, read and respond to your own email.

  4. Highlight and capitalize on successes. Spotlight teachers who are doing a great job using technology and encourage other teachers to learn from them. Change the structure of the day to allow teachers more time and the opportunity to visit others who are using technology effectively.

  5. Make your end goal the creation of a cadre of teacher teams empowered to work together and teach each other the tech tools.

As we assess and evaluate our practices, we continue to fine-tune and improve our school's existence in the digital age. One of the best measures of success comes from the students who attend The Florida Online High School. Not only do these students become experienced telecommuters prepared for real-world environments, but they are also leaders in their own educational journey. We are preparing students to work in a technology rich environment, and they are learning life-management skills alongside of the core curriculum.

Since much of the learning happens online in a remote classroom or home, students must take responsibility for their own progress. For example, students learn the technology as they learn the subject by utilizing tools available on the computer, just like the real world, and are leaders among their peers. When students talk about their experience at The Florida Online High School, they generally agree on the following tips:

  • Online courses are a GREAT way to get a credit to graduate.

  • It is more difficult because learning is happening the entire time. You must be an active learner in the process.
  • Make a schedule and stick to it on a weekly basis.

  • Communication with teachers is important. Proactive communicators tend to be more successful in the online learning environment.

  • Reach-out to peers for assistance via telephone or email and get involved with others at the beginning of class.

About The Florida Online High School
The Florida Online High School, an entirely online secondary school, has become the model that K-12 schools study when they are exploring web-based learning and how it works. The school's achievements in online administration, pedagogy, and instructional delivery systems have helped confirm the invaluable role online learning can play in modern education. The mission of The Florida Online High School is to provide students with high-quality, echnology-based educational opportunities to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century.

The Florida Online High School began offering courses to students throughout Florida in 1997 and is now affiliated with all 67 of the state's school districts, serving over 3,000 students. Students enrolled at the school have over 60 online high school courses from which to choose. The school also provides consultation and support services to institutions around the globe.
Julie Young is the Executive Director for The Florida Online High School. Ms. Young is also a 2001 NetDay Hero for her work in transforming teaching and learning through online education. She can be reached at: youngj@fhs.net or by phone at 407-317-3326 ext. 2742.