Great Hearts Online: Classical Education in a Fully Online School

Great Hearts Online classical education virtual school anemoi

Great Hearts Online is a new, full-time, online school that will begin during the current school year for hundreds of students across Texas—not just the communities that already have a brick-and-mortar Great Hearts campus. We have questions, and we’re sure that you do, too, but we will do our best to summarize what we know so far, and you can decide whether to join the interest list. Clearly, the time has come for “Classical education. Revolutionary virtual schools.”

Classical Education Via Distance Learning

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Great Hearts Texas schools in the San Antonio area had their last day of in-person instruction on March 6, 2020. The 2020-21 school year started on August 12, but in-person classes won’t resume until September 14. In the meantime, students have participated in Great Hearts Distance Learning. Depending on the campus and grade level, GHDL includes a mix of live virtual classes over Zoom, pre-recorded videos, and other materials (readings, slides, forms, etc.) organized in Google Classroom.

Great Hearts Academies has operated schools for 20 years, focusing on traditional teaching strategies that rely on face-to-face interaction, like Socratic seminars. Great Hearts parents, including Inga Cotton, founder and Executive Director of San Antonio Charter Moms, 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.” He admitted to feeling “nervousness” about translating the Great Hearts model to online school.

As it turned out, the Great Hearts curriculum is so time-tested, and the teaching corps so dedicated, that Great Hearts distance learning has stayed true to the vision of the school. Great Hearts offers 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.”

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. “Together, our teachers and instructional leaders made possible what once seemed implausible when they created a quality online classical program that—quite remarkably—grows more impressive each day.”

Great Hearts leaders have sent surveys to Great Hearts parents asking how they feel about distance learning, and the results have been strongly positive. In the spring, 88 percent of parents responded favorably, meaning that they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their child’s online experience. (The survey had a response rate of 91 percent.)

Realizing that the experiment with Great Hearts distance learning has been a success, it is a natural step for Great Hearts Texas to offer a classical, liberal arts education in a fully online school.

Classical Education at Great Hearts Online

Great Hearts Online will help fill the need for more classical education offerings and more virtual school opportunities. It’s designed to reach students in the many communities of Texas that do not currently have a Great Hearts campus.

Currently, Great Hearts Texas serves 7,000 students in grades K-12. There are six brick-and-mortar campuses in the San Antonio area, and two in North Texas. 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. Every year, more students have applied than there are available seats, so the school makes offers through a lottery system. As of August 18, 2020, there were 5,500 students on waiting lists for Great Hearts Texas campuses.

“Given the growing number of students on our waitlists, and the rising number of families seeking a quality online offering, the parent demand for both classical and virtual education is—and will continue to be—very much present in our state,” said Dejah Behnke, Senior Vice President of Advancement. Parents who are on waiting lists are looking for high quality education options that will be a good fit for their children. “I believe we have an obligation to do whatever is within our ability to grant access to as many children as possible, and to give parents the opportunity and flexibility to choose the kind of classical education that, until Great Hearts came along, was only offered in private schools,” added Behnke.

Great Hearts Online will offer a classical, liberal arts curriculum through a fully online academy. That means it will be open to students in grades K-12 living anywhere in Texas—not limited to the previous geographic boundaries of the San Antonio and North Texas regions. Great Hearts Online will also welcome students who have been waitlisted at an existing campus. For years, other virtual schools have had eligibility restrictions (no K-2, prior public school, etc.) but those limitations don’t apply to Great Hearts Online.

Currently, Great Hearts Online is on a one-year waiver from the Texas Education Agency to offer online-only instruction anywhere in Texas. They are working hard to advocate for long term change so that Great Hearts Online can serve students across Texas for years to come.

Launching Great Hearts Online

Parents who are curious about Great Hearts Online should join the interest list and like the Facebook page. We also invite you to join the San Antonio Charter Moms discussion group on Facebook, where there is already a lively conversation going about Great Hearts Online.

Families who have students who are currently enrolled at a Great Hearts Texas campus should plan to stay. Every Great Hearts Texas campus will continue to offer distance learning for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. If a student transfers to Great Hearts Online, they will lose their seat at their current campus and won’t be able to enroll in on-campus learning during this school year.

Kurtis Indorf, recently the Executive Director of Instruction at Great Hearts Texas, will lead Great Hearts Online. Great Hearts co-founder and CEO Jay Heiler said that Great Hearts Online will be a “new and permanent branch of our organization.” Great Hearts Online will have its own Headmaster, administrators, teachers, school calendar, and class schedule. The curriculum, however, will be the same as at all Great Hearts Texas schools.

Here is the initial timeline for Great Hearts Online:

  • September 21 to October 4: Early bird application period for students who are currently on a Great Hearts Texas waiting list.
  • October 5: Application and enrollment period begins. Great Hearts Online will make offers to students in the order in which applications are received—first come, first served—until all seats are filled.
  • November 2020 to January 2021: The first day of classes is still to be determined, but will be somewhere in this range.

Indorf projects that Great Hearts Online will enroll between 200 and 500 students in its first year.  As students from across Texas sign up for the interest list, the team will determine which grade levels to offer, and how soon to begin classes.

We still have questions about the Great Hearts Online model. Will it be similar to how Great Hearts distance learning has been implemented? In future years, will there be a process for students to transfer between Great Hearts Online and the brick-and-mortar campuses? How will Great Hearts Online offer arts, music, athletics—all essential to the core purpose? How will Great Hearts Online serve special needs students? We will be asking questions like these, gathering more information, and sharing it with our readers and our online community.

Charter Moms Chats

Watch Kurtis Indorf, Executive Director of Great Hearts Online, speak with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats on September 11, 2020 at 4 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.

As the Executive Director 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.

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