The district superintendent said it several times during the course of our conversation the other day.
"We have over 1,000 virtual students around the state."
"Our virtual students come from all over the state."
"Most of our virtual students reside in these counties."
He even emailed me a .pdf showing the data points of where his virtual students reside.
And most of them are struggling, not happy with the school, with the exodus rate continuing to grow annually. His question to me was "why?" "Why are they leaving us at such a high rate?"
There were a myriad of reasons really but I focused on the one that was glaring.
"My first suggestion is that you take a step back and understand that you have a virtual school, but your students who attend it are real kids, not virtual."
I then went on to share with him four additional suggestions:
1) Rather than data points on a state map, display their faces where all of your administrators can see them. That way they will grasp the fact that these are real kids.
2) Use the word "virtual" sparingly, and only when referring to the school. In all oral and written communication, refer to them as "real students" and not virtual.
3) Develop a plan, a course of action, even a culture where you are able to learn: what they believe? what are their aspirations? what are their dreams? what are their goals? why are they here? And, how can you serve them more effectively?
4) Understand that retention efforts begin the same day a family commits to your school. It is wrapped up in the teacher/student relationship; the communication from the school (what is said and how it is said); the ability for the student/family to find answers; the perception that they are being heard; and whether or not your actions match or exceed your words.
If you want to put a dent in the attrition rate, give students plenty of reasons to stay.