Great Hearts Online: Classical Education in a Fully Online School

Great Hearts Online girl with parents

Great Hearts Online is a full-time, online school that is that is finishing its first year of serving students across Texas—not just students in communities that have a brick-and-mortar Great Hearts campus. As Great Hearts Online continues to grow, we are sharing current information about this virtual public charter school, as well as their future plans, so your family can choose to join the interest list or enroll.

Classical Education Via Distance Learning

Great Hearts Online arose quickly in response to the pandemic; because it fills an important niche, it has a long term future in serving students with virtual education. In March 2020, Great Hearts Texas temporarily closed its campuses and began offering distance learning. Starting on September 14, 2020, Great Hearts Texas students began returning to campus in person, although distance learning was offered as an option throughout the 2020–21 school year. Meanwhile, starting on January 4, 2021, Great Hearts Online began serving students in a full-time online school.

The idea of launching Great Hearts Online had been on the drawing board for a while, but offering an online school is a departure for Great Hearts Academies, which has operated bricks-and-mortar schools for over 20 years that focus on traditional teaching strategies that rely on face-to-face interaction, like Socratic seminars. Parents who appreciate the classical education offered at Great Hearts worried how these techniques would translate to distance learning. Dr. Daniel Scoggin, Great Hearts co-founder and interim Superintendent, said, “Those of us steeped in classical education, operated with the mindset—at least up until now—that the Great Hearts model could only be offered in the traditional sense, meaning in a face-to-face classroom setting.” Faced with the need to inspire students on the other side of a computer, “our talented and classically trained educators rose to the occasion and met this challenge with the utmost amount of grace, determination, and flexibility,” said Scoggin. Great Hearts Online is now closing in on its first year of making classical education more accessible to students throughout the state.

During the 2021–22 school year, the Great Hearts Texas bricks-and-mortar campuses have only offered on-campus instruction. However, Great Hearts Online offers families the choice of remote access to a classical, liberal arts education—not just in selected cities, but across the state.

Great Hearts Online Texas teacher music

Classical Education at Great Hearts Online

Great Hearts Online helps to meet the growing demand for virtual school options, and adds a classical education model to the range of choices. Families like the Hornoks, who live in Texas communities that do not currently have a Great Hearts campus, as well as families like the Branyons, who have medically complex children and prefer to educate at home, can access Great Hearts curriculum and teachers through the online school.

Since 2014, Great Hearts Texas has grown to serve 7,000 students in grades K–12. There are seven brick-and-mortar campuses in the San Antonio area, and four in North Texas, with more to come. Great Hearts Texas is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is authorized by the Texas Education Agency to operate open enrollment public charter schools. As a public school, there is no cost to apply or attend. There is no assessment required prior to entering the program, and the school is not allowed to look at a student’s previous performance on tests when determining whether a student is eligible to enroll for in-person learning. Every year, more students have applied than there are available seats, so the school makes offers through a lottery system. As of August 2020, there were 5,500 students on waiting lists for Great Hearts Texas campuses.

Great Hearts Online has stayed true to the original Great Hearts vision, using different tools but still offering a rigorous, classical liberal arts curriculum including advanced math and science, and robust arts and foreign language classes. The core purpose of Great Hearts is to cultivate the hearts and minds of students through the pursuit of “Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.”

Great Hearts Online girl presenting to class

Parent Advocacy and Re-Launch

Because of parents advocating for education options, Great Hearts Online has progressed from a temporary waiver to an established full-time online school. During the 2020–21 school year, Great Hearts Online operated under a temporary waiver from the TEA. That year, Great Hearts Online served approximately 500 students in grades K–6, located in the San Antonio area (47 percent), North Texas (Irving, Dallas, Fort Worth, etc.—39 percent), and other areas of Texas (14 percent).

In the spring of 2021, during the Texas Legislature’s regular session, HB 1468, a bill to provide continued public funding for distance learning, failed to pass. In the summer, during the first special session, virtual learning was not on the agenda, and the session ended without a quorum. Parent advocates, including the Hornok and Branyon families, shared their stories in guest posts and traveled to Austin to testify as hearings. Many more families wrote emails and made phone calls to legislators to advocate for funding for virtual learning. However, without public funding in Texas, Great Hearts Online began the 2021–22 school year as a private school.

After the 2021–22 school year began, the second special session passed a bill, SB 15, that does fund distance learning, and allows Great Hearts Online to re-launch on November 1, 2021 as a free, public charter school. The new law providing for online schools includes some limitations on eligibility; families are encouraged to apply for enrollment and work with Great Hearts Online staff to determine eligibility.

During the 2021–22 school year, Great Hearts Online—Texas is serving approximately 800 students in grades K–8. There are plans to add high school (grades 9–12) in the future. Great Hearts Microschools are opening in Texas as well.

Great Hearts Online girl with teepee

Great Hearts Online Is Growing

The teachers at Great Hearts Online are working hard to help students and families feel like they are part of a community. In an interview, teachers Bridget Saltmarsh and (now Headmaster) Emilie Sullivan discussed how they build relationships with their students. For example, fifth graders are asked to fill out a sheet about their interests so the teachers can get to know them better. Different homeroom sessions have themes, like sharing riddles. Students are eager to share, whether it’s playing piano or violin, or showing off their artwork. Bridget uses songs and movement—like a phonics scavenger hunt—to bring students together and keep young learners engaged. On Fridays, when there are no synchronous classes, students are invited to log in for Lunch Bunch; Bridget is planning a Flapjack Friday to celebrate tall tales and Paul Bunyan.

Parents are sharing positive reviews of Great Hearts Online. On a survey, a parent wrote:

Thank you so much for this opportunity! We enjoy having our scholar learn from home. By doing so we have grown closer as a family, and we have all avoided poorly spent time which gives us more time to actually learn and grow together. My scholar also now has time to peruse many of his extra passions which is much broader than what he would be able to take on in a traditional school setting. The quality of instruction and responsiveness of the Great Hearts Online teachers continues to astound me. We recommend it to anyone looking for a school from home approach. We are very grateful!

Another family reported:

Our daughter is enjoying school again! The distance learning program she had before was lacking. She is excited every morning to see her teacher and strives for excellence while completing her live assignments. She is also much more eager to complete her independent assignments through GH Online than through her distance learning. She is sharing stories about class and what she learned like she used to when she was at Brick-and-Mortar for Kindergarten. Distance learning in the fall and the lack of interaction with her teacher left her just feeling like she had to complete tedious work. There was no joy of learning in the fall. This new semester with GH Online has renewed her joy of learning!

As Great Hearts Online finishes its first year of operation, families are looking forward to a full year in 2022–23. Parents who are curious about Great Hearts Online should join the interest list and like the Facebook page; they can also go online to apply for enrollment. We also invite you to join the San Antonio Charter Moms discussion group on Facebook, where there are ongoing conversations about Great Hearts Online.

Emilie Sullivan Great Hearts Online
Emilie Sullivan

Charter Moms Chats

Watch Emilie Sullivan, Headmaster of Great Hearts Online—Texas, speak with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats on March 22, 2022 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.

Emilie Sullivan is the Interim Headmaster of Great Hearts Online—Texas. Originally from the Syracuse, New York area, Sullivan has lived in sunny and warm San Antonio for four years. She graduated from State University of New York (SUNY) College at Cortland with a MS in Teaching in Childhood Education. Before this, she lived and worked in Boston, Massachusetts, at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Sullivan was a fifth grade teacher at the Great Hearts Monte Vista South campus in San Antonio for almost four years, and now serves as the Interim Headmaster for Great Hearts Online—Texas. When not at school, you’ll find her spending time with family or exploring the beautiful museums and delicious restaurants in the San Antonio area. Sullivan also enjoys traveling, reading, and a good hot cup of tea.

Heidi Vasiloff, Executive Director of Great Hearts Online, and Kurtis Indorf, President of Great Hearts Online, discuss the re-launch of Great Hearts Online—Texas in a Charter Moms Chats interview on September 27, 2021 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.

Heidi Vasiloff is the Executive Director of Great Hearts Online. She previously served for five years as Headmaster of Trivium Preparatory Academy, a Great Hearts campus in Goodyear, Arizona. She has experience as a science teacher and environmental educator. She has a BS in Wildlife Biology from Arizona State University and an MS in Organizational Leadership from Grand Canyon University.

Kurtis Indorf is the Chief Innovation Officer of Great Hearts America and President of Great Hearts Online. Indorf is leading the design, development, launch, and growth of Great Hearts’ classical online academies. Indorf joined Great Hearts Texas as the Executive Director of Instruction, charged with launching and leading a new strategy and team to support strong instruction and achievement across Great Hearts’ growing school network in Texas. Indorf also provides executive level consulting and systems advising to select clients as the Founder and Managing Partner of Build the Future, LLC. He serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for Compass Rose Education, a high performing and rapidly growing charter network in San Antonio, Texas.

Previously, Indorf served in various leadership roles at KIPP Public Charter Schools, including Chief Academic Officer, Chief People Officer, Deputy Chief of Academics, and Head of Schools. Before joining KIPP, Indorf was the founding Executive Director of The Achievement Network in Colorado building partnerships with district and charter systems across the state to develop leaders’ skill in leadership development and data-informed teaching and learning. Also in Colorado, he served as a gubernatorial appointee to the Charter School Institute’s board of directors, an independent state agency and the only state-wide charter authorizer in Colorado.

Earlier in his career, Indorf served in four founding school and district leadership roles at Achievement First, a public, charter management organization running 30+ schools in New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. He started his career teaching English Language Learners in Phoenix, Arizona through Teach for America.

Indorf lives in San Antonio with his wife, three daughters, and dog. He received a Master’s of Science in Education from Arizona State University with a focus in secondary English curriculum and instruction and a Bachelor’s of Science from Ithaca College in Integrated Marketing Communications and Legal Studies.

Emilie Sullivan, Headmaster at Great Hearts Online—Texas, Bridget Saltmarsh, Kindergarten Teacher at Great Hearts Online—Texas, and Kurtis Indorf, President of Great Hearts Online—Texas, offer a look ahead to the 2021–22 school year, in a Charter Moms Chats interview on April 5, 2021 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.

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