Virtual High School: District program appears to be working

Some kinds of education reform need not involve political battles between unions and legislators. Some reforms involve rethinking how and where teachers and students interact, and creating new, more efficient learning opportunities through technology.

New Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones is fully behind such reforms and rightly sees the Internet as a tool to not only improve the graduation prospects of credit-deficient students, but provide gifted and motivated teens with opportunities to achieve their potential.

Virtual High School is growing, the Review-Journal's Trevon Milliard reported Sunday. The 7-year-old program has 12,000 students this year and a goal of enrolling 30,000 by next year.

For the vast majority of those students, online classes give them a chance to retake courses they've failed. For years, high school campuses have struggled to provide enough makeup classes to the students who need them. Putting these teens in classrooms before school, after school and during summers has proved inflexible and expensive.

Now more students are being encouraged to take such classes through Virtual High. The online format might seem impersonal, but it holds students and teachers plenty accountable. Students must motivate themselves to work through the material. Teachers are available via phone, email and text messaging, and they provide personal instruction for struggling students. Meanwhile, district administrators have the ability to log into any class at any time from their desks to verify progress.

Virtual High also has 150 full-time students. Among them are Heather Chmura, who takes classes around her schedule helping manage her family's three businesses. "People say we're the anti-social kids, but look at me," Ms. Chmura said during a break at the Wetzel's Pretzels franchise she runs. "I'm dealing with people all day."

Jared Smith, a 15-year-old former Boulder City High School student, switched to Virtual High to better manage the practice schedule of his year-round swimming club. "There's a lot of wasted time in school," he said.

These students aren't slackers, and the test scores for Virtual High's full-time students reflect that. Last year, all of them passed the High School Proficiency Exam's reading test, 90 percent passed the science test and 87 percent passed the math test, all well above school district and state passing rates of roughly 70 percent. The school was one of only 10 in Clark County recognized as a high-achieving campus under No Child Left Behind standards.

With online classes becoming more common at colleges and universities, it's imperative that the Clark County School District offer more such alternatives to students serious about graduating and getting on with their lives. Online courses for middle school students are in development.

Virtual High is a growing success story for the school district. It embodies Mr. Jones' belief that the district not merely raise expectations for its worst students, but its best as well.