After 31 years as an educator in the “bricks and mortar” public school system, Maine native Walter Wallace took on the role of Principal at one of the State’s two virtual public schools. Prior to the Covid pandemic, many were suspicious of virtual schools. Maine legislators placed strict caps on the number of Maine students that could take advantage of this public option.
In this conversation with Aaron Churchill, Mr. Wallace discusses how the this online virtual school changed everything about how he had been accustomed to teaching and learning. Placing a high level of trust and responsibility on the individual student to accomplish their goals makes this school stand out. Time allocations are different in a virtual school resulting in teacher having more flexibility to manage their time resulting in more teacher/student time together than in a typical school.
Prior to the pandemic, schools had little incentive to explore the options virtual learning offers. When the crisis emerged in March 2020, districts realized choice was no longer an option. Teachers with little to no experience with virtual learning were forced to improvise and with scattered success and high levels of frustration. Virtual schools like Maine Connections Academy were at an advantage because the model for educating students virtually had been developed with years of research and testing. We hear how the informal teaching network and comraderie among public school teachers enabled Connections Academy leadership and teachers to provide immediate technical assistance and advice to their colleagues in district schools to make sure the transition went as smoothly as possible. Despite a waiting list of about 400 students requesting admission to Maine Connections Academy, current legislation prohibits more students from being admitted to this public school.
Asked about the future of virtual learning, Mr. Wallace suggests that the pandemic has demonstrated a new appreciation for value-add virtual learning will play in a restructured post-Covid system. Virtual schools will continue to provide an option for many students for whom typical district schools and schedules do not serve their needs Given that the future workforce will be in increasing virtual environments and work teams, Maine’s virtual schools are a valued player in educating Maine’s future workforce.