Pensacola News Journal Sunday, May 30,2010
Travis Griggs

A Pensacola company is launching an online program to help working adults earn their high school diploma from the comfort of their homes.

Smart Horizons Career Online Education is an adult-education provider that is working to become the country’s first accredited online school district.

Howard A. Liebman, superintendent of Smart Horizons, said the program is tailored for working adults who dropped out of high school and have few resources available if they want to return to education.

“There is a lot of focus on dropout prevention, but there’s not a lot of focus on dropout reengagement,”

Liebman said. “Our vision and mission are about re-engaging the adult learner back into the educational system and preparing them for the world of work.”

The program launched its first class of 75 to 100 students April 26. Sammie Avis, 57, of Lawtey, is a member of the pilot class.

Avis said she got married at 17 years old, and quit high school shortly thereafter without earning her diploma.

“Several times I went to go back and get a GED or something, and it just didn’t work out,” Avis said.

Avis said she tried attending night classes, but had a difficult time squeezing in classes between a fulltime job and caring for her two children.

“It was just too much. I couldn’t do it,” Avis said.

Now that her children are grown, Avis said she’s trying again to earn her high school diploma. She works in childcare and is worried that future rule changes may require that childcare workers have a high school diploma.

She said because she needs to be home in the evenings to take care of her 76-year-old mother, online courses are a perfect fit.

“This way I can be at home with her … and still take care of her and do the classes also,” Avis said.

New opportunity
Online high schools are a relatively new concept in the education community.
Several local education institutions, including the Escambia County School District and Pensacola Junior College, offer free high school programs for working adults, but all require students to attend classes at brick-and-mortar facilities.

A public online high school program was launched in the late 1990s by Florida Virtual School, but the program is intended to supplement, rather than replace, traditional high schools.

In 2003, Liebman co-founded the University of Miami Online High School, the nation’s first completely online high school.

That program, a for-profit private school now owned by Kaplan, is geared toward athletes and entertainers and costs more than $11,000 a year.

In 2009, Liebman and his partners joined with Pensacola-based Smart Horizons to create a new online high school, which aims to provide affordable and accessible education and career training to people on the other end of the social spectrum.

Howard A. Liebman, Ph.D.