In 1995, Stephen Baker, a teacher at Goderich District Collegiate Institute, requested new textbooks for his Grade 11 Biology class, but his request was turned down by the school principal. Not willing to accept the status quo, Baker turned to the internet, which was still a fledgling at the time, to deliver biology content to his students. He spent the next four months working with his senior biology class teaching them both genetics and HTML. Baker and his students were able to post their work to a server running out of the back room of Anstett Jewellers in Clinton, Ontario.
When Paul Carroll, the Director of Education at the Huron County District School Board (now the Avon Maitland District School Board), heard about the project, he became involved and encouraged Baker to further pursue and develop the concept of placing the biology course online. In fact, it was Carroll who encouraged Baker to imagine a whole school online.
Virtual High School brought together an eclectic group at the Huron County District School Board in the latter part of the nineties, including online teachers, curriculum writers, content developers, theorists, and school board administrators. In the spring of 1996, the partnership resulted in the first browser-viewed online high school course in Canada: Introductory Biology (SBI3A). A second course, Canadian Literature (ELIOA), written by John Smallwood, was launched in the fall of 1996. However, by the end of the millennium, new leadership at the Avon Maitland District School Board ended the partnership with Virtual High School.
As Virtual High School moved towards independence from the public school board, it floundered for a couple of years. A turning point came on September 1, 2001, when Virtual High School received its inspected private school status from the Ontario Ministry of Education. In the early days, and at the time of receiving official private school status, Virtual High School was called the Kitchener-Waterloo Private School as Baker did not think that the Ministry was ready for the concept of a fully online school in 2001. The first OSSD credit offered online by our school—a course in Canadian History—was issued on June 24, 2002. In 2006, the school’s name was changed to Virtual High School (Ontario), which was shortened to Virtual High School in 2012.
For years, the school operated out of Baker’s basement in Bayfield, Ontario, but in 2011 the school renovated and moved to the Ritz Hotel on Main Street. Fast-forward to the present day: Virtual High School has over 8,500 enrolments each year, a staff of more than 70 at its Bayfield facility, and a teaching faculty of nearly 100 certified teachers acting as independent contractors. With over 70 courses in grades 9–12, Virtual High School gives students all over the world the opportunity to earn OSSD credits. Virtual High School offers a truly personalized education in which students may start their courses on any day, proceed at any pace, and write their final exams on any day.