Virtual High School is celebrating its 20th anniversary!
Check out our interview with VHS Principal Stephen Baker, Director of School Administration Ashley Homuth, and Senior Director of Operations Sandi Baker to find out how we’re learning from the past, adapting to the present, and looking forward to the future.
What would you consider to be the biggest achievements in Virtual High School’s history?
The biggest accomplishment was the writing of 75+ high school courses as we ran the school. In the early days, it was done by teachers. The first course that we wrote was a Grade 11 biology course and the second course was Grade 12 English. We had no money in the old days, so it was very difficult to build these courses. It took a long time. Even if you were fully dedicated to writing a course, it would take you a year to develop a course and put it online. There’s a lot of work that goes into them.
A second accomplishment would be how well educated our administrative staff members are. We had a lot of learning to do with all of the nuances of education when we started. We had to piece it all together and create all of these policies (equivalent credit assessments, community involvement hours, academic integrity, etc.) through the initiative of the staff.
The third one is the beautiful building that we have. It was a run-down, kind of dog-eared hotel that was basically on its last legs. It was built in a hurry with asbestos shingles right after the war. We tried to make it a conducive, good place to work so that people felt good about coming into it. It gave us a home, and having a home is so important.
I’m proud of what we do. I’m proud of how we handle our students. I think the future is very bright for us.
What has been the greatest lesson that you’ve learned over the past 20 years?
The greatest lesson I have learned is to keep giving responsibilities and capabilities to those staff who clearly demonstrate that they can handle the tasks. Never do anything yourself that you can give to somebody else to do better. That will then free you up to do something else that nobody else can do. It gives you the freedom to move into new areas that you can expand into. We often get married to our responsibilities, and we feel very comfortable. We nestle in. We settle, but if we’re going to grow as people we have to keep demanding new responsibilities.
I don’t think that there’s a better occupation that I could have chosen than education. To me, it’s a wonderful way of giving back to society and helping people. I like working on people’s minds, helping them become good citizens, developing their curiosity, and making them critical thinkers.
How has Virtual High School adapted to the changing market and educational climate?
At Virtual High School, we have always taken pride in placing the student at the centre of everything we do. Adapting to the changing market and educational climate is something that happens organically as we respond to student needs and adjust our course offerings and student support efforts accordingly. More recently, when we saw an increased demand for online courses at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we increased our teacher and administrative support in order to be able to continue to provide exceptional support to the increased number of students attending our school. We make it a priority to ensure that each student is given individual attention and receives equal support.
While we have certainly noted some changes in the market over the past 20 years, we have also noted consistencies. The majority of our students take courses with us because they do not fit into the traditional school setting for a variety of reasons. It could be that their day school didn’t offer a course that they needed, they may need to take or repeat a course for a post-secondary requirement, or they require the flexibility that our asynchronous, self-paced, online school offers. Whatever the reason, we have committed ourselves to continuing to provide a high level of support to our students through our excellent teachers, Student Academic Support team, and our exceptional team of administrators. While we will continue to increase our course offerings, build in new programs, and ensure that our course content meets ministry expectations, one thing will remain the same: we will always treat each student as an individual, providing flexibility and support to our students as they work towards achieving their educational goals.
How would you describe the Virtual High School community of staff, teachers, and students?
The two words that I would use would be supportive and inclusive. The thing I love most about working with Virtual High School is the people I work with—staff, students, and teachers all included. I have witnessed administrative staff members going above and beyond for our students on numerous occasions by staying late, working through lunches, or working over weekends just to ensure students can meet their deadlines and achieve their goals. Our teachers share the same values and, although they work remotely, I know that they show the same dedication, working hard to ensure student work is graded in time to meet their deadlines. We also have an excellent student community which is very diverse. One of the benefits of attending an online school is that students can share as much or as little about themselves as they’d like. We have a number of students who actively and enthusiastically participate in our student community events, while others simply complete their work and continue on their academic journey. Whatever the student’s goals or intentions may be, we are here to support, guide, and encourage. It is such a pleasure to be a part of a student’s educational experiences.
What is your hope for Virtual High School for the next 20 years? In what ways do you expect the business to grow?
My hope for Virtual High School for the next 20 years is to continue with the same mission and vision that we have had for the last 20 years. We support students in meeting their educational goals. We have always found innovative ways to support students and provide quality online education, and I know that will continue to drive our school in the future.
What does that look like for our school? That is the big question that we continually ask ourselves. We know our strengths lie in the quality of our courses, our support for students and their parents, and our flexibility to meet diverse student needs. Those are the pillars of our school, and we adapt and build on those pillars to meet changing student needs and changing technology. Some of our recent efforts, for example, include a focus on building strong community spirit within our school and investigating many new course offerings. We have no way of predicting the future, but our plan is to stay steady with our mission and adapt as needed along the way. There is no end to the opportunities!