Chris Smith, former band director and now principal of Point Option Virtual Learning Academy in Newport News, is an energetic and caring individual who is passionate about transforming the academic lives for all students. Public school Point Option Virtual Learning Academy, a true “one size fits all” academy, offers in-person instruction as well as an online, virtual learning program for students grades K-12 for those who learn better remotely. “At Point Option Virtual Learning Academy, we are the modern approach to remote learning because we provide individualized instruction for each of our students,” says Smith.
As mandatory state education student curriculums become more rigorous, Smith aims to provide a more innovative approach to student learning. “Virtual learning is not pandemic learning. We offer our virtual learning program as a choice to those students who want to be a part of an innovative, modern approach to learning that is focused on the individual needs of each student, rather than the needs of the classroom,” says Smith. “As one of the most innovate public schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we truly pride ourselves on our ability to augment the lives of students and positively improve their educational experience through individualized instruction,” Smith adds.
With a great deal of focus toward serving his students and managing more than 500 of them in grades K-12 currently participating in the academy’s virtual learning program, Smith hopes to enroll an additional 250 students in the program over the next three years, with a goal of having each student enrolled in at least one virtual class in the next decade. “As a dream team of passionate educators, we continuously use our understanding of student learning to create and develop more advanced, revolutionary educational resources to enhance student learning as we prepare the next generation of students for the world,” Smith says.
When asked how COVID-19 affected his ability to support and connect with his students, Smith demonstrated sheer enthusiasm as he claims that it was COVID-19 that sparked the motivation to create this program to better the academic lives of his students. “During the pandemic, we were mandated to offer virtual learning by the state, but after reviewing the data, we noticed that some students (who were previously falling behind) were able to achieve higher grade point averages when taught virtually. By expanding upon that format, we are now able to deliver better instruction to our students who prefer remote learning, in addition to those students who still want to learn in the traditional classroom setting,” Smith says.
With educators who specifically specialize in virtual learning, students will learn more in a private setting than in a public setting. With a greater focus on individual academic struggles, teachers are now able to help students understand their academic strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to achieve greater success in the future. “We make sure to share our success with others in hopes of inspiring other school districts to offer the same level of engagement and academic achievement in their schools,” Smith adds.
The success of this program is greater than Smith ever expected. He now has 32 full-time virtual learning teachers (in addition to his in-person staff) who are trained to teach students successfully and explicitly through a virtual platform. “As school visionaries, our teachers have provided tremendous support in our ability to provide a virtual learning program for our students,” Smith says.
While Smith spends most of his time at the academy enhancing student learning, he also enjoys spending time with his wife, Katherine, supervisor of performing and visual arts for Newport News Public Schools, and two daughters, Emma and Ella. As a former band director, Smith is also passionate about music and enjoys performing publicly, as well as attending concerts and playing golf in his spare time.
With a great passion for serving the next generation of students in Newport News and across Virginia, Smith aims to expand his virtual learning program, which he hopes will continue to provide more focused and individualized instruction for students, ultimately driving student success. When asked what he loved most about his job, Smith is quick to say, “I am most passionate about my students’ abilities to overcome challenging obstacles, seeing their growth and success, both in academics and in life. Though some days are not always good, seeing my students’ smiles is the most rewarding aspect of what I do every single day.”