Head of North Carolina’s charter school office leaving, taking job with controversial virtual charter school

The head of North Carolina’s office overseeing charter schools is leaving for a job with a controversial virtual charter school opening up this year.

Joel Medley, who had headed the N.C. Department of Public Instruction since 2011, is leaving his state job to become the head of school for the N.C Virtual Academy. The school is a new online charter school opening this summer that will be run by the Wall Street-traded for-profit education company K12, Inc. (NYSE:LRN).


Joel Medley. Source: LinkedIn.

“I have accepted a position at the NC Virtual Academy in June and will serve as the head of school — returning back to my roots as a school administrator,” Medley wrote Thursday in an email to N.C Policy Watch. “It has been an honor to serve here in the Department and I look forward to this new opportunity.”

Medley, who made $91,473 a year in his role as North Carolina’s director of the Office of Charter Schools, has worked in both South Carolina and North Carolina monitoring charter schools, taught at all levels of education and has also been a past director at a charter school.

Details about his new salary at N.C. Virtual Academy, which is considered a public school, were not immediately available.

In a news release issued this afternoon, N.C Virtual Academy also announced it was hiring Marcia Simmons, who had been an instructional director at the state-run N.C. Virtual Public School, as the new charter school’s academic administrator.

Medley oversaw the charter school office during his four-year tenure as director when the number of charter schools grew dramatically, from 100 to 146, after newly empowered Republican lawmakers opted in 2011 to remove a cap on the publicly-funded, privately-run schools.

Legislation in last year’s budget mandated the creation of a four-year pilot program for two virtual charter schools. The N.C. Connections Academy, which will be managed by the Pearson-owned Connections Academy, and N.C. Virtual Academy, the K12, Inc.-run school, will both open for this upcoming school year, enrolling up to 1,500 students each.

K12 logoK12, Inc. operates in more than 30 states, offering students and families a full course load of schooling that can be accessed via home computers. Proponents of the online schooling company say it offers families an alternative way of education, and one that has special benefits for children that may not do well in traditional school settings because of bullying, medical conditions or other reasons.

But the company has faced criticism as well, with critics accusing the company of draining off scarce public education dollars and being more focused on profits than delivering a quality education.

The company has run into issues in other states for its low graduation and test scores of its students. Tennessee is slated to close its K12, Inc.-run virtual school this year after test scores ranked the school as one of the worst-performing in the state.

Medley’s new job will involve managing a virtual school he once stood in opposition with, as the state unsuccessfully fought efforts for several years by the Wall Street-traded K12, Inc. to open up a North Carolina public charter school.

“The grim academic achievement coupled with the high turnover compel North Carolina to move slowly before opening the flood-gates to virtual charter schools,” Medley wrote in a 2012 affidavit filed trying to stop the K12,Inc.-run virtual school from obtaining approval through the courts.

This is Medley’s last week at DPI.


  1. tanya

    May 31, 2015 at 5:23 am

    I think if Mr. Medley takes some of the best practices he learned in physical charter schools and as he was familiar with the weknesses of K12’s model in advance- it is possible that he may be able to make some difference in the outcomes experienced elsewhere. Part of the challenges I heard from parents homeschooling virtually have been complex. One aspect is that it is harder to keep kids motivated and the monitoring has to be constant which is very intense for the parent home schooling. Another aspect is that one or even two parents may not have academic strengths in all areas to help their kids. the schedule has to be quite rigourous on the parents end- and yet- it is also harder to keep kids focused at a computer than it is in a participatory environment. I think there could be a number of possible ways to intervene positively in this situation- that could have been developed over time before opening up the rolls- but nevermind. One possible solution is having some kind of online parents group- where parents can get advice and supprt from other parents. Moreover, parents could potentially organize into small groups based on different academic strengths – ie 3-7 students that may live geographically close-ish learning one subject with one parent and another subject with another parent around- they can be the supprt to the kids if there are questions (the kids could be at one parents house one day and at another parents the next day etc, and/or use a communal location like a church or library or a free bank of computers at another school that is available- a community college or a high school- at times not being otherwise used or something). I know that some of the virtual schools had teachers online- but I think the live access to at least one adult and maybe even the interaction with 2 or 3 other kids in similar situations might be helpful- I think this kind of thing can be encouraged. Also- scheduling help for parents- could be so helpful- they can work with the virtual school people for suggested schedules- and ways to make things less intense for parents- and ways to make the virtual school more interactive for kids. Just some possible ideas- I think it could work only IF there is more thought put into it- and real feedback from families using the virtual school.

  2. tanya

    May 31, 2015 at 5:28 am

    Also- perhaps having synchronous live videofeed classes for some classes online where the students have a button to request to ask questions (I have been in a class like this) can mimic the interactive quality of live classes- and also save the lectures for re-hearing later. that was one of my favorite things- when the live sessions remained online to students- because even though we ideally should be fully caught up to the class when we sit down to it- sometimes there are aspects we did not realize or pieces we did not connect- and we can go back to discussions that seemed to explain a concept and really hear it again- as many times as we needed.

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