By Teresa Salafrio
Whenever I meet someone and they ask me what I do, I respond, “I am the principal of an online high school for adults who have not previously earned their high school diploma.” The reaction of people is always the same: “What does the principal of an online high school do? You don’t have to deal with behavior problems and since you’re working primarily with adults, you don’t have to work with parents either, like in a typical brick and mortar high school. So what do you do?”
It is true that being the principal of Career Online High School (COHS) is a unique experience, but it has more in common with being a principal in a traditional school setting than you might think. Although I am not face-to-face with my students and Academic Team, my day looks much the same as a brick and mortar high school principal. Here is a snapshot of my typical day.
Meeting with My Academic Team
Just as a principal in a traditional school would, I meet with my Academic Team regularly. In fact, since we are in a virtual setting I probably meet with them even more often. We discuss topics such as student motivation, obstacles to student success, and ways to overcome those obstacles to drive student retention and graduation. Our primary goal as a team is to find ways to best support our students. I love this part of my job because I get to hear our coaches’ passion for ensuring the success of their students.
Walking Around the School and Visiting Classrooms
“How can a principal possibly walk around a virtual school and visit virtual classrooms?” one might ask. It is definitely more challenging than being able to walk down the hall and pop into your typical classroom. But I visit our virtual classrooms by “popping into” COHS’ virtual classrooms, where I am able to access a plethora of information at the click of a button. I am continually looking at the various groups (classes) of students through extensive reports that provide tremendous insight on student progress and thus allow me to brainstorm with the Academic Coaches on ways to encourage student success. I am also able to observe teacher–student interaction by listening in on calls between students and their Academic Coaches or Academic Instructors.
Working with School Partners
As with most schools, COHS has partners. On any given day I work with various organizations, such as public libraries—sharing the story of COHS and strategizing on ways to work together to enable student success. I provide partners information about the program as well as training on how they can help students achieve their goals.
Talking to Students and Graduates
This is the very best part of my days as the principal of COHS! I enjoy talking to current students about their experience at COHS as well as learning more about what brought them to our school. I am so proud of each of our students and talking to them reminds me of the reasons why.
I recall a conversation that I had with a student who told me that she has three children under the age of five, works full-time, and is completing her high school courses at the same time. That is a true balancing act and one that shows such focus and dedication.
I spoke with another student who had to drop out of high school when she was a teenager due to the fact that she had to care for her mother who was ill. Now she is turning that experience into the motivator factor behind graduating high school and entering the health care field.
My conversations with graduates are equally as uplifting. Whether it was the graduate who finally earned her high school diploma at the age of 73 or the graduate who went on to find what she called her “dream job,” the stories all have a common thread: Students are focusing on a goal and accomplishing it despite all odds and challenges. These are the stories that make me so proud to be the principal of COHS!
Passion for Driving Student Success
So you can see that I have very similar experiences as a principal of any other school—BUT I also have the unique pleasure of being part of students’ second chance to accomplish their goal of earning a high school diploma. I have the privilege of working in a virtual setting whose very existence is dedicated to helping people who have never experienced academic success find that success. It is our students and that goal that motivate me to do everything I can to ensure that our entire team has an ongoing passion for driving student success.
About the Author
Teresa Salafrio brings a wealth of experience to her position as Principal of Career Online High School. She served as principal for the University of Miami Global Academy, an online AdvancED/SACS accredited college preparatory program, 2009-2012. In 2005, she was also instrumental in growing the University of Miami Online High School (UMOHS) and served as both a teacher and principal for the school. Salafrio was also named an Exceptional Student Education Teacher of the Year for Broward County Public Schools in the State of Florida.