Course Access reimagines what is possible in public school education by creating choices for students and parents to select from a wide range of courses from approved providers. It puts decision making power into the hands of families to customize an education that meets a diversity of dreams and ambitions. It can also help smaller and rural districts solve staffing challenges for high-need or specialized courses students are required to complete in order to graduate.

In this blog originally posted on the Foundation for Excellence in Education‘s Edfly Blog, Nelson Coulter, former director of the Guthrie Virtual School in Texas, shares how his rural school district overcame graduation requirement challenges for its students by creating a virtual school that provided needed course access opportunities.


Nelson Coulter

Guthrie Common School District (GCSD) is located on the rolling plains of western Texas, 90 miles from each of our closest city neighbors Lubbock, Abilene, and Wichita Falls. Guthrie is the only town in King County, which spreads out over 912 square miles. Guthrie proper has a population of 160, and King County is the third least populated county in the United States (around 350 fine folks). Just over 100 K-12 students physically attend our school, which also houses the King County Library as well as the school district offices.

As you can probably imagine, small schools in rural areas like ours often struggle to find teachers for high-need or specialized instructional areas. This was the case for our high school’s Spanish instruction. Since world language is a requirement for graduation in Texas, and a course must meet certain requirements for the credit to apply in the state, we knew Guthrie needed to find an innovative solution to this challenge.

Through a partnership with Rosetta Stone Education, GCSD developed virtual Spanish I and II courses for students in grades 8-12 and offered them for review in the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN). We learned in our work with TxVSN that GCSD is far from alone in the need for a world language instruction that goes beyond what small districts can offer themselves. Many other smaller schools began utilizing our programs to solve their own requirement needs, and it became almost immediately apparent that Course Access is one of the best answers possible for rural schools to meet their instructional challenges. Thus, Guthrie Virtual School (GVS) was born, and has since grown its offerings across academic disciplines.

While it wasn’t originally our intent to establish Guthrie as a prominent virtual provider in Texas, GVS has been extremely successful, capturing over a third of the online learning market share in the TxVSN catalog. Since its implementation in 2011, GVS has achieved a 96.4% student course pass rate and realized a steady increase in active learners. We routinely serve 600-800 students outside our district, those students representing every school setting from the rural/remote to urban areas like Dallas and Houston.

One of the best parts about Course Access is that a learner can be served anytime, anywhere and receive quality instruction. High-quality teachers are able to make connections and build relationships whether online or in person. This is extremely important for smaller schools since we can’t always attract the experienced and/or specially credentialed teachers we know our students deserve.

For many of our students, virtual learning is helping them become the first in their family to graduate and attend college. As well, online learning offers options to ALL students that were heretofore available only to students who resided in huge districts with comprehensive offerings. In my opinion, those elements make Course Access an invaluable option, opening up unbounded (and affordable) opportunities to any student, anywhere, anytime.

This video explains more about GVS:

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For more on Course Access, check out:

Nelson Coulter was born and raised in western Texas, and has served as a teacher, coach, mentor, university professor, principal and superintendent. His service includes work in a diverse selection of public schools: large and small, rich and poor, those with declining enrollment and those with rapid growth, wide-ranging demographic makeup, all levels of campuses PK-12, and at the University of Texas at Austin.


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