Honest Review: Working at a Cyber Charter School
As the world embraces the benefits of working remotely, parents might wonder what it’s like to work at a cyber charter school. Is it that different from a brick-and-mortar experience? Do employees really benefit from it? In this blog post, staff member Jennifer shares her honest review of working at PA Virtual.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies realized that working remotely does not necessarily equate with lower productivity.
Employees can be just as effective, if not more so, working remotely as opposed to gathered in a physical location. Now, here in 2021, we’re seeing many companies move to a fully remote model. A vice president of sales in Boston can work for a company based in Idaho, while an East Coast executive can lead meetings with colleagues in California.
At PA Virtual, virtual learning and remote work is the norm. Our teachers provide top-notch instruction from locations across the state, while staff members and administrators work behind the scenes to make education available to all Pennsylvania students.
But what is it REALLY like behind the proverbial curtain? What does a day look like for an employee? Today I’m here to share my experience with you, and give you an honest review about working for PA Virtual.
A Day in the Life
The old adage “the early bird catches the worm” best describes my day, as well as my philosophy. I begin at 6:30 each morning, and while I do not mind having worms sharing space on the earth, they’re not part of my morning ritual. I prefer a hot cup of coffee to get my day started!
After I pour a cup of my favorite caffeinated drink, I check in with members of my team. There are a few of us that start very early, so we have our “virtual water cooler chat.” This unique time provides us with a few moments of bonding while we get our to-do lists in order, and prepare ourselves for the day.
Next up are emails, to which I respond and/or take action. My main focus is on process improvements by managing the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts of the day-to-day necessities, so that the principals, teachers, and staff can focus on serving PA Virtual families. My daily schedule includes ongoing projects and tasks that I progress on, but not a day goes by without switching gears and shifting to helping serve our PA Virtual parents, principals, teachers, and staff. My day finishes at about 3 p.m., but may adjust based on the needs of members of our PA Virtual community.
Learning the Ropes
I spent many years in corporate America — with software company SAP America, computer giant Hewlett-Packard, and communications mogul Motorola — so I worked with many different platforms. Of course technology will always evolve, but my solid background made it easier to adapt to that which is used by PA Virtual. To be sure, what we have now is definitely more advanced than when I started out working in the mid 1990s — back when I worked with people who used “old-fashioned” dial-up Internet from home offices!
The one area that was new to me was being on camera. It is not something I was used to on a regular basis, so it definitely was a new learning experience for me, and also something I strive to make more natural. Another “new” aspect I encountered was going paperless. I personally love the world of “paperless environment.” When I share with friends and family that I handle the majority of my workflow without printing much, they are surprised. This is certainly different from working at Hewlett-Packard; there were times we printed spreadsheets on large format printers to finish our number crunching!
My Favorite Aspects
Prior to working here, I was a paraprofessional in a local elementary school. After doing this for several years, I found that I loved being in education, but felt that my corporate background could offer even more to a school institution. I began a search that lasted a year, until I came upon PA Virtual and the wonderful opportunity to join as an administrative assistant for the elementary school.
Even then I knew instinctually that it was a perfect fit for me. The gut feeling I had told me it was the path to choose — and I have yet to regret that choice!
I’ll be honest: Working in a virtual environment is a unique experience. Being technologically adept is critical, but we are fortunate to have an amazing information team that is diligent in keeping all systems running smoothly. The virtual environment is definitely enjoyable, and my team and I interact as often as we would in a physical office, so there is no feeling of being alone on a proverbial island.
The most rewarding aspect of PA Virtual culture for me, though, lies in supporting fellow employees. Everyone wants one another to succeed, so there is a strong sense of teamwork. I’ve developed deep friendships with my colleagues, and a crucial level of trust and respect for their abilities, as well as my own! It really is like a family here, where everyone steps up to help when they can, and we support one another through thick and thin. You don’t find that with just any employer!
(Click above to watch our Culture and Values video.)
Speaking of trust...
Trust is also an important aspect of life at PA Virtual. We have specific staff and culture values, as well as student and family-centered values. For the latter, WE CARE about providing well-rounded curricula, educational partnerships, customized education, academic excellence, robust technology, and engaging opportunities. Our staff and organization-specific values remind me that I MATTER, as we emphasize integrity, making a difference, accountability and compliance, transparent communications, trust and culture, effective operations, and a reputation that we are proud of.
I’m particularly fond of integrity, trust and culture, and effectiveness of operations, as all three are integral to my position. My goal from the beginning has been to improve and elevate the day-to-day functions so that principals, teachers, and staff would be able to more readily serve PA Virtual families. To do that, we need to foster a workplace culture that seeks and promotes trust — which works perfectly alongside our integrity through working diligently, being honest, and taking responsibility for our work. As noted earlier, I’m all about being as efficient and effective, so that our PA Virtual families get the best experience that cyber charter education has to offer.
Since joining the community in March 2021, I have streamlined processes that were being handled by several people into a centralized function performed in my role. An example would be managing homeroom assignments, students schedules, and course placement process in Total View. Not only are we saving parents a headache, but, being a public school, we are responsibly stewarding our taxpayer funding.
Challenges and Obstacles
For me, I honestly did not have major transitional challenges, as I worked remotely in past jobs. I do struggle with finishing the day at a reasonable time, as it is easy to say “just one more item” before signing off — which snowballs into a list of “one more” items. To address this, I adapted my routine to start letting the team know when I was signing off for the day. Because the quantity of items we complete in a day is not a measure of our worth here, employees at PA Virtual understand the need for balance — as well as how such balance actually boosts our productivity, and better uses our resources as a public school.
There can be a bit of a learning curve when transitioning from an in-person position to a remote work job. Extroverted individuals may struggle with not having colleagues in the same space, but PA Virtual’s extensive collaboration tools make connection easy. Another aspect that can be tricky is establishing your modified routine, and sticking to it. For employees who are also parenting cyber charter school students, it’s vital to prioritize the creation of those routines, so as to keep it all in balance.
Advice for Prospective Employees and Parents
I’ve said it in other ways, but I’m proud to say it again: Working at PA Virtual has brought me great happiness. I love my team, the staff, and the positive atmosphere. I am wanted for my knowledge and abilities, and not just as employee #212 (not my real number!) who is expected to leave my thoughts, ideas, and personality outside of the proverbial building.
I find myself amazed at the seamless technology and operations put into place to educate students in a completely virtual environment — and not only educate, but help them thrive!
For parents who are curious about the dedication of teachers and staff, let me emphasize how much employees here are invested in your child! The main thought in the minds of all teachers, Family Support Coordinators, Parent Ambassadors, and staff administration is how to make an already positive experience even better for PA Virtual families.
There are benefits and challenges to working remotely, but when you find the right role, work becomes less like a have-to, and more of a want-to. When I first learned of the open position at PA Virtual, I knew it would become my forever home — which is exactly what I put in my cover letter and resume. I found that it is very true that you know something is right when it just feels right. I had other opportunities, but I definitely chose the perfect fit!
When it comes to our careers, we all want to find an ideal job that draws on our skills and expertise, challenges us, and respects what we bring to the table. For me, PA Virtual has provided a place to grow personally and professionally — all in an environment where I am known and valued.
NOTE: This blog post was originally posted in October 2021 and has been updated for accuracy of content.
About the Author: Jennifer Guerra is the program specialist for the elementary school.
Still curious about what it's like to be a Learning Coach and PA Virtual parent? Check out our Parent Experience page to learn more!
Photo credits to Andrew Neel on Unsplash, and Jennifer Guerra.