I have always aspired to open a new school that cultivates a school atmosphere centered on learning and student achievement. One that recruits and retains the best teachers and staff, meaningfully engages with students, families, and the community, and utilizes research-based and culturally responsive curriculum. I have not yet fulfilled that dream, but I had the opportunity to work alongside James Hopkins, a school principal in Durham, North Carolina, who has done just that. James opened Lyons Farms Elementary School during the 2022- 2023 academic school year.
The bright morning sun floods in through the yawning glass windows and casts long shadows in the front of the classroom. My colleague and I and about ten-odd teachers sit huddled at the desks near the back; some of them are poring over resources on their screens, others using markers, pens, and paper cutouts on small chart paper. INDEPENDENT PRACTICE, the text underneath one of these cutouts proclaims. The teacher draws an arrow to the right, as though to sequence the steps, and then draws a sort of three-step cycle that takes up most of the space. THREE STATION ROTATION, the teacher then proclaims in green marker and proceeds to describe in small writing what students are expected to do in each station during her 9th grade English class.
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This school year, Portland Public Schools (PPS) launched a multi-year strategic plan for educational equity, inclusion, and excellence with the core belief that the student experience needs to be reimagined. PPS’ district-wide focus spotlighted the middle school experience, where data revealed – regardless of metric – that students are not being adequately prepared for high school and beyond. Meisha Plotzke, Senior Director, Middle Grade Academics and Middle School Innovation and Redesign, partnered with Education Elements asking, “How do we redesign the middle-school experience so that every student, and in particular our Black and Native students, deeply engages in strong instruction, with grade appropriate assignments, grounded in high teacher expectations, and personalized, integrated supports?”
To support the planning of opening a virtual school, leaders can be overwhelmed with the volume of questions to consider — logistics, strategy, and purpose to name a few. To guide the planning process, we offer the following table with phases of implementation with related questions. While the guide is set up sequentially, each phase may trigger a deeper articulation of previous phases to refine or reimagine the virtual school.
After interviewing hundreds of parents, teachers, and students across the country, we’ve found almost everyone wants the same things for the kids they care about. We want “our” kids to flourish – to have productive work, meaningful relationships, creative self-expression, good health, and to participate civically in their communities.