Saturday, February 13, 2016

What do you want most? (and a note on Agora Cyber Charter School)

We sat around a table in Big Lake, Alaska. We included myself, my wife, my oldest daughter (an entrepreneur herself), and a small group of people where we were in discussion about either partnering with them or even buying their business.

We had been through various discussions on financials, business operations, and all of the other fun items associated with what we were exploring. Then, my daughter began to share what had brought her to the table. Afterwards, she looked at each of us and shared that for her it would be most helpful to know what each person there wanted.

Then, she looked at the current business owner and asked him, "What do you want most?" It was a beautiful and insightful question, and his answer was surprising. He paused, leaned back in his chair, and his eyes followed his thoughts.

"Community," he answered. "I really want community."

I wonder how many families in virtual schools want the same thing? I wonder how many of them have a desire for community? How many of them want to belong to something that lifts them up, feeds them, and encourages them?

Community. We strive so hard to provide a diploma for families when perhaps what they want most is to belong.

A note on Agora Cyber Charter School:

While I admit to not knowing all of the details specifically, Agora Cyber Charter School (PA) laid off hundreds of teachers and family coaches yesterday. Disappointing but not surprising.

Some of the reason falls to the ongoing budget crisis in PA where the new Governor and legislature have not agreed to a new budget that began last July 1. I get that. However, most of the responsibility belongs at the feet of those in charge of Agora.

They talked a good talk but failed to walk it. And, yet again, virtual schooling receives a black eye because of it.

As recently as last week I had noticed an Agora advertisement stating they were a public school so they were always open for enrollment. At the same time, they were not taking care of their existing family -- students, families, teachers, staff.

Agora was and is doing things the old way -- funnel students in to replace the ones leaving and hope at the end of the year more have entered the front door than departed the back door. Then, continue to relegate the teachers to the same status as technology and have them serve as interventionists with the hope that somehow academic results will increase.

At what point do we realize the current model is broken? At what point do we understand that to continue doing the same things over and over while expecting different results is merely pretending? 

This time it was Agora Cyber. Who will it be next time?

It's time to re-imagine the virtual school experience. It's time to craft a model that places the teacher-student relationship at the center and build around it. It's time to build a school worth belonging to. It's time to launch with success in mind, grow with purpose, and build a culture of retention. 

It's time to throw the sales funnel away. 

It's time.

And, this presents us with an opportunity to build a new model. Virtual schooling can realize its promise. It can serve students and families. It can be all that it was meant to be.

Let's begin construction on a model that has as its foundation Relationships. Let's build a model that fosters community. Let's build a model that equalizes the learning experience with the academic pursuit. Let's build a virtual school that is all about Together.

We can do it. We must do it.

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