Julie Young Leaves a Legacy of Public Sector Online Learning Success

The news that Julie Young is retiring from leading the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) has spread quickly throughout the online learning world. Julie led FLVS from the start and grew it from 77 enrollments in 1997 to more than 410,000 enrollments in the last year. Along the way, she and FLVS garnered countless awards and recognition for their innovative, high quality work. Julie’s focus on students and dedication to serving students with a publicly-available online education is the key part of her legacy. Although the official announcements have described the details of her story, I’m not sure they fully convey her dedication and character. In that spirit, I am sharing here a story that aims to capture both.

More than a dozen years ago—I would have to try very hard to come up with exactly when, but it was when Julie and FLVS were among the few experienced online learning pioneers, and I was a just beginning the consulting projects that evolved into the Evergreen Education Group—I knew of Julie but had never spoken with her. I doubt that she knew who I was.

I had partnered with a colleague on a response to an RFP from a state program in a western state seeking guidance on how to further a program that was very much like a state virtual school. FLVS—with far more experience than we had—responded as well. My colleague and I were chosen. To this day I don’t know why, but my guesses are that 1) my colleague was a resident of the state issuing the RFP, and 2) the program wanted to be seen as created from within, and not simply mimicking the success of FLVS.

As we started the project, we knew that we had to interview the few state virtual schools that existed then. Of course FLVS was at the top of the list. We called Julie. My colleague, somewhat inelegantly, said at the start of the call (I am paraphrasing but this is a close approximation), “Well, you’ve got a great program, and we know you submitted a proposal, but we won the project…so can we ask you some questions about how you run FLVS?”

Had I been in Julie’s shoes, my response would have lacked her grace and generosity. She paused for a long moment, and then said yes, we want to help create these opportunities for students wherever they are. She then proceeded to spend a full hour answering our questions, and at the end of the scheduled time offered further help.

In the years since I have had the opportunity to work with Julie and her team at FLVS. I have seen that same spirit of collaboration in support of innovation to serve students countless times. And I have never once doubted that it was genuine, because I saw that first time, when Julie had every reason to be guarded and uncooperative, she instead chose to volunteer her time and expertise in the service of students, even at the risk of creating a competitor.