Six Rivers Virtual Academy Achievements


The Innosight Institute ( recently published a white paper titled "The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models." The paper profiles 40 organizations that have blended or have plans to blend online learning with brick-and-mortar classrooms. These represent a range of operators, including state virtual schools, charter management organizations, individual charter schools, independent schools, districts, and private entities. The following narrative is found within the “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning” white paper and is used by permission of Innosight Institute. It features a profile of Six Rivers Charter High School in McKinleyville as a prime example of a district choosing to innovate learning programs
with digital content. The full white paper can be accessed at the Innosight Institute website ( and Integrated Educational Strategies (

History and context
Chris Hartley, principal of Six Rivers Charter High School authorized by the Northern Humboldt Union High School District in McKinleyville, Calif., faced mounting problems. Declining public funding meant that he had trouble providing the robust curriculum for his students that he envisioned, and his rural location only exacerbated the struggle to deliver a full range of courses. Looking for answers, he talked with Lisa Gillis, president of Integrated Educational Strategies (IES), to see whether blended learning could help.

As a pioneer in blended learning, Gillis had a history of helping schools survey their needs and then develop a blended model based on their goals, timeframe, and students’ needs. Hartley decided to leverage this expertise by partnering with IES to launch a blended-learning program for his district.

Blended model
Hartley and Gillis agreed to a four-part technology strategy. Two parts of the strategy fell outside the definition of blended learning. For example, the first goal was to integrate online technology into traditional classrooms vis-à-vis virtual field trips, SMART boards, and other online, teacher-paced supplementation. The second initiative called for setting up the Six Rivers Virtual Academy (SRVA), a full-time virtual school for students who needed an alternative approach. SRVA opened for students beginning with the 2010-11 school year.

The third piece, however, marked a step into blended learning. Beginning in the fall of 2010, leaders divided the school day at Six Rivers Charter High School into six periods. Students learned in traditional classrooms for five periods, but for the sixth period, they moved into a dedicated technology classroom for online instruction in core subjects. A facilitator monitored the students to ensure they stayed focused, but an online teacher delivered the curriculum. The facilitator also instigated face-to-face discussions, as prompted by the online teacher, in the small-group areas set up within the classroom. Hartley and Gillis believed that this “6th period” design provided an ideal solution to deliver a diversity of courses in the school’s rural setting at an affordable price. It also facilitated credit recovery for students who needed to retake a course to graduate.

Fourth, the leaders set up a learning center to serve as an alternative education school for students pursuing independent study as a way to meet their personal and academic needs. Students who enrolled in this alternative program studied online remotely for four days each week and then attended the center the remaining day. The center was available for student drop-ins every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., if students preferred to work on-site. During the required face-to-face days, students received help with their specific social and academic needs, including attending life-skills classes and having access to academic and technical support. Hartley and Gillis selected Odysseyware to provide the curriculum and learning management system. Northern Humboldt Union High School District had its own student information system, which did not integrate with the Odysseyware platform. Administrators have had to upload information between the two systems manually.

Initial enrollment in the learning centers exceeded expectations. It grew from 15 students in September 2010 to 35 full-time and 19 concurrent students by February 2011. School leaders noted that students participating in this program showed an overall interest in subjects and higher levels of engagement. They responded well to the pacing-guide approach by demonstrating higher levels of productivity and credit recovery. Attendance rates and credit completion rates have both improved for 80 percent of participating students.

In addition, the program has helped senior students who were behind get on-track to graduate. Roughly half of them follow an individual learning plan, which they formulate with their instructors. The individual plans have been instrumental in providing the necessary academic and emotional support for them to progress faster. Hartley and Gillis agree that the learning-center approach has provided a one-on-one connection and a support system that have strengthened student understanding of the material, met the diverse needs and individual learning styles of students, and built a sense of community amid an independent learning environment. Students have reported an increase in their level of confidence and commitment to perform in an academic setting.

On the horizon
The next steps in the project implementation include incorporating elements of synchronous course delivery into the online learning, increasing professional development, improving academic support for students, and increasing the use of online-learning tools.

Six Rivers Virtual Academy has benefited from a grant with the California K-12 High Speed Network. Support from the Northern Humboldt Union High School District also has been instrumental in the success of the program. The district especially has been proactive in providing resources for the design and implementation of the virtual academy.

In terms of policy needs, school officials say that California’s UC A-G policy limits coursework that students can take online to meet the prerequisites for college admission in California, and that this poses a barrier to full online access for all students.