Great Hearts Online: Classical Education in a Fully Online School

Great Hearts Online classical education virtual school anemoi

Great Hearts Online is full-time, online school that opened in early 2021 and is now educating hundreds of students across Texas—not just in the communities that already had a brick-and-mortar Great Hearts campus. As Great Hearts Online prepares for the 2021–22 school year, 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

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 did not resume until September 14. In the meantime, students learning from home participated in Great Hearts Distance Learning—and many students will continue to do so for the rest of the 2020–21 school year. Depending on the campus and grade level, GHDL included a mix of live virtual classes over Zoom (some online-only, and some concurrent with in-person and at-home students), 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.” 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.

In the 2021–22 school year, the Great Hearts Texas bricks-and-mortar campuses will offer on-campus instruction only. However, with the launch of Great Hearts Online in January 2021, families have the choice of remote access to a classical, liberal arts education.

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, and to serve families who prefer to learn at home. Change is happening in many areas of

Since 2014, Great Hearts Texas has grown to serve 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 2020, there were 5,500 students on waiting lists for Great Hearts Texas campuses.

During the 2020–21 school year, Great Hearts Texas applied for a waiver from the TEA to offer online-only instruction anywhere in Texas. During the current legislative session, they are working hard to advocate for long term change, including lifting eligibility restrictions, so that Great Hearts Online can serve students across Texas in the 2021–22 school year and for years to come.

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.”

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. They are also applying to serve online students in Arizona.

Great Hearts Online Is Growing

In the current school year (2020–21), Great Hearts Online serves 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). Next year (2021–22) the school will expand to include 7th and 8th grades. In the 2024–25 school year, Great Hearts Online will expand again to offer early high school grades.

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 Emilie Sullivan and Bridget Saltmarsh discussed how they build relationships with their students. For her fifth graders, Emilie asks them to fill out a sheet about their interests so she 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 recent 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!

Based on these reports from Great Hearts Online teachers and families, it sounds like the new platform is off to a strong start. Families 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 are ongoing conversations about Great Hearts Online.

Charter Moms Chats

Emilie Sullivan, English Language Arts Teacher at Great Hearts Online, Bridget Saltmarsh, Kindergarten Teacher, and Kurtis Indorf, Executive Director, 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.

Heidi Vasiloff, Headmaster of Great Hearts Online, and Kurtis Indorf, Executive Director, shared updates in a Charter Moms Chats interview on November 9, 2020 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.

Watch Kurtis Indorf, Executive Director, introduce Great Hearts Online on Charter Moms Chats on September 11, 2020 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.

Heidi Vasiloff

Heidi Vasiloff is the Headmaster of Great Hearts Online. She served for the past 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 a MS in Organizational Leadership from Grand Canyon University.

Kurtis Indorf

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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