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Virtual Schools Network: Supporting the realities faced by virtual school educators

Cover of the program report for the Virtual Schools Network. Features a person's hand using a tablet.

Highlights from the VSN Program Report, May 2023.

Over the past several years, districts throughout North Carolina have opened virtual/remote schools to provide educational options for students and their families. Various models have emerged, based on the needs of each unique community.

In an effort to help identify and support critical needs surrounding various virtual learning environments, the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University and North Carolina Virtual Public Schools (NCVPS) partnered to develop and implement a Virtual Schools Network (VSN) focused on connecting local traditional virtual public schools.

VSN understands that educators have worked tirelessly to address the challenges and struggles faced by North Carolina schools, especially as the pandemic continued. Thus, from the start, the Friday Institute and NCVPS teams have been committed to building a support system that puts the needs of educators, students and their families first.

I was very ecstatic as well as relieved when I found out about the Virtual Schools Network because it let me know that my school was not alone. There are so many challenges that I face as a brand-new administrator of a virtual school. VSN gave me a place to overcome barriers and work with other virtual school educators like myself.”

Estella Johnson, Assistant Principal, Cumberland County Schools

VSN began by hearing directly from those stakeholders working in virtual classrooms every day. All were asked: How might VSN create an innovative network, designed to meet the unique needs of educators at virtual schools?  Virtual school educators overwhelmingly asked for supports to help them continue to grow and the opportunities to collaborate with others to tackle common challenges together. Thanks to VSN, virtual schools recognize that they are not alone; there are available resources within the state to listen, recognize and support issues that matter to them. 

The Virtual Schools Network began to take shape and support eight partnering schools across the state in its 2022-2023 pilot year. The VSN offered its partnering schools and their staff online, “flipped” professional development sessions, collaborative connection webinars, consultation hours, access to curated resources and archived webinars, and opportunities for networking with other educators across North Carolina.

“The fact that we can get [together and] talk about the successes and the barriers that we have…is very important. Just being able to understand that we’re all in the same boat–we’re rowing in the same direction for the intention of helping kids, and knowing that there are organizations like VSN out there that support that is huge.”

Kent Simeone, Principal, Cabarrus County Schools Virtual Academy

In addition to this, VSN also conducted a school-wide needs assessment of all partnering schools. Topics were focused on the VSN Design Team Drivers (Human Resources, Personalized Learning, Parent/Community Engagement, Technology /Space and Curriculum/ Instruction /Assessment). Questions also concerned professional and personal development needs based on the educators’ roles and skill sets. The highest priority needs for VSN’s NC virtual schools included personalized instruction, data literacy, student engagement, parent engagement, project-based learning and the opportunity to connect with other virtual schools and virtual school educators. 

The highest priority needs for VSN’s NC virtual schools included personalized instruction, data literacy, student engagement, parent engagement, project-based learning, and the opportunity to connect with other virtual schools and virtual school educators. These needs were identified by North Carolina virtual school teams at a March 2022 convening and continue to be the basis for VSN supports. (Virtual Schools Network is a partnership between the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University and North Carolina Virtual Public Schools).
See the complete VSN Program Report for more details.

“We’re the only virtual school in our district and it can feel a little lonely. Having thought partners and other educators and leaders to talk to about what their [virtual] schools are like helps us get ideas, share ideas and just really brainstorm how we can all improve. Before [VSN], I didn’t feel like I had that.”

Sabrina Nelson, Educator, Ignite Online Academy

Upcoming 2023-2024 VSN Offerings

The work of the Virtual Schools Network will continue its support into the 2023-2024 school year to address these priority needs. The program, however, has changed its offerings to holistically reflect the research and data it has acquired from the realities faced by virtual school educators and targeted to meet their specific needs. Partnering schools will receive:

  • Six (6) flipped and collaborative webinars (earn up to eight hours in CEUs);
  • Facilitation guides with every webinar (to be used to engage full staff in professional development);
  • Two (2) in-person convenings for partnering school teams;
  • Quarterly virtual school collaboration partnerships with other virtual schools;
  • Quarterly newsletters – highlighting policy updates/briefs, news and best practices for virtual schools and student engagement;
  • VSN Institute for partnering school teams; and, 
  • Access to research-based supports, curated resources and webinars.

Open enrollment will take place this fall, and virtual school educators interested in learning more are encouraged to register for an informational VSN Convening, Aug. 14. Teams of two from all North Carolina virtual/remote public schools are welcome to attend and connect. Existing VSN partner schools team will meet in October for their VSN Institute and collaborative capacity building and planning. 
For more information about Virtual Schools Network, please visit

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