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Faculty Spotlight: Meet Executive Director Chris Geis "Personalized Online Learning - A New Way of Life"

11 Sep

Faculty Spotlight: Meet Executive Director Chris Geis "Personalized Online Learning - A New Way of Life"

Posted By: 
Chris Geis

Jun 20, 2014 7:26:35 PM

This blog post comes from Chris Geis, Executive Director of CMA-SAS. He shares his story of how he found his passion for personalized online education and why he, along with Tamra Excell, have become advocates for the Personalized Education Philosophy which differs from the the so-called personalized education many claim to create.

Personalized Online Learning - A New Way of Life

“I believe it’s time to grasp the possibilities available to truly personalize student education through online learning.”

Over the past few years, I have witnessed students transform their everyday ordinary lives into living extraordinary lives I could never have imagined as a teenager myself.  These students didn't fit in to the typical classroom/school setting for one reason or another -- whether it be due to social, emotional, medical, or other reasons.  I have felt a connection to many of these students - more than just the obvious connection of having them be enrolled in CMASAS.  I could relate to them and feel what they were feeling.  One of our current students, Arden, recently submitted a blog and video for a Student Voice contest which struck a chord.  Her story was very similar to mine, with one exception that she had an alternative to the typical classroom education. I feel so blessed that CMA-SAS offers Arden a personalized learning option unavailable just a decade or so ago.

While I was never diagnosed with Dyslexia, I portray all the symptoms of having at least a mild condition of Dyslexia.  When I was in elementary school, I attended speech therapy on a weekly basis for years, without much success. In school, I loathed doing any type of writing assignment.  I simply could not get started on any writing assignment.  I thought it was just writer's block.  I found ways to cope, such as having a friend start the first 1-3 sentences of an assignment for me.  Just get me started, I thought.  This worked initially, but I knew that I couldn't count on my friends to help for every writing assignment forever.  Over the years, I found strategies which helped get my thoughts into words.  As computers became more common place, I started using Word Processing programs such as Microsoft Word and Word Perfect in the 1990's.  I found that I could get my thoughts down in writing, then go back and unscramble those thoughts into a more organized, coherent sequence.  All without having to decipher what one of my high school teachers referred to as chicken scratch for my handwriting.  

Jump forward 30 years or so, and I now have developed strategies to help with my writing, including a support system through my wife, Linda, and my business partner, Tamra Excell.  It takes me much longer than others to get my thoughts down on paper or in email, but I no longer need someone to get me started -- most of the time.  Today, I still misspell words by switching letters, but with spell check I am able to go back correct those errors.  

The majority of content found on our online school website was created through this type of corroborative process.  Not only with the content, but the design and layout as well.  I have been fortunate enough to surround myself with extremely talented and patient individuals who not only understand my differences but support and help nurture growth.

I have always looked for my own path in life, not taking the safe job or compromising my principles, but have taken the path less traveled.  Jim Carrey recently stated, “you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”  Something I have lived for the past 10 years after losing a job due to district politics for a charter school I opened and helped develop.

My thought process differs from most others that I have worked with in education - especially public education.  I have worked alongside educators with MBAs from Harvard Business School and Superintendent's of large districts who, on the outside, talk a very similar language of Personalized Education; however, when pressed about true personalization based not only on learning styles and skill level, but also on each aspect of our Personalized Education Philosophy, they don't fully grasp the possibilities available to truly personalize student education through online learning.

At one point in 2003 I truly wondered what God's plan was for me.  I had transitioned from being a private/public school teacher to a director of a successful charter school with an Independent Study/Homeschool focus.  Due to district politics, I was removed from my position as director of the charter school; however, The Lord provided me with an opportunity to work for a K-8 charter school the day after being removed from my position.  I was hired, in part, to research high school models - including online learning for a new charter the school was intending to open.  From researching online high school options, I was able to create a position with an online provider to develop and open an online charter school in California, just North of Los Angeles.  It took several years of hard work, many  meetings with districts and administrators, but we were finally able to make our dream a reality by opening an online charter school in Los Angeles County.  I quickly found that my ideas and thoughts of a personalized education and those of my employer were not exactly aligned.  I saw how the traditional classroom setting was simply being moved to an online format - with disastrous results.  Students were being graded on a curve so that 90% of the students would pass their courses, though the average grade in some classes was 20%.  Ethically, I couldn't allow myself to be a part of that type of “online education”.

Another opportunity presented itself about the same time - a move to a private online school and being reunited with Tamra Excell who I had worked with when developing online curriculum for the charter school back in 2003.  Since then, we have been on quite a journey, one whose story would be hard to imagine was true.  Through it all, we both stayed true to each other and our ideals for a revolutionary school setting.  The result - Christa McAuliffe School of Arts and Sciences.

Through my various positions and educational experience I have learned the following:

1. Stay true to yourself, your ideals, your principles, and do what you love.  Find your passion.  Above all, enjoy and live life to it’s fullest!

2. Always do your best.  Give everything a try.  By saying you can’t do it or that it can’t be done, you have already failed.  If we would have listened to all the naysayers - district superintendent’s and Harvard MBAs, Christa McAuliffe School of Arts and Sciences would not be in existence today.