Innovation is a crucial aspect of leadership. Innovative leaders can think creatively, identify opportunities, and develop new ideas to help their organizations grow and stay relevant in a constantly changing world. They can inspire their teams to think outside the box and create new solutions to problems. Thomas D. Longenecker is an innovative leader with the unique ability to strategize at the micro and macro levels. His leadership style, complemented by his extensive finance and operations experience, fosters collaboration among the senior leadership team, which ultimately is spread throughout all verticals of the organization.
As a thoughtful, caring individual, Tom (as Thomas is known adoringly) knows that all children can learn and that their success depends on creating a learning program and environment that meets their unique needs. No two children are the same, and Tom understands and recognizes that customized and personalized learning programs will ensure each child’s future success. With more than twenty-five years of experience in educational leadership and as a father of two, Tom has extensive knowledge of transforming education to be student- and family-focused.
Tom has been with CCA since 2012 and served as chief operations officer before being appointed president and chief executive officer effective July 1, 2020. Through innovation and leveraging technology, Tom is leading the charge to upend education to ensure that every student is successful. He is steadfast in ensuring every child graduates high school with a defined career path, earning a family-sustaining income, and becoming a socially responsible, productive citizen. “The future of our country is dependent on preparing today’s students for the jobs and economy of tomorrow,” says Tom.
As a firm believer in participatory leadership, Tom empowers the leadership team to take ownership of their respective divisions using a team approach. While each individual has skills and expertise in particular areas, working as a team prevents the building of silos and staves off mission creeps.
Without sounding self-aggrandizing, Tom has consistently experienced success because of his solid work ethic at every career stage. Although he stumbled along the way, Tom learned from those setbacks, reassessed each situation, and charted a path to success. “Most of the lessons we learn are from difficult situations; however, it’s what you learn through experience and how you perform on the other side,” he adds.
On A Mission to Enhance Learning
The history of virtual charter schools tells an exciting story. While cyber school may sound like an incredibly modern institution, distance learning originated in the 19th century. Improvements in the United States Postal Service helped correspondence colleges catch on at this time, and cross-country communication became more efficient than ever. At these colleges, instructional materials were distributed through the mail between professors and students, making learning possible even over great distances.
With the advent of the internet in the late 20th century, distance learning became significantly more efficient — communication was near-instantaneous, allowing students and teachers to operate almost synchronously. At the same time, web developers began to create websites and software designed specifically for education, making it easier than ever to access course materials.
Over the last two decades, the power of individual computers has increased 10,000 times over, without substantial boosts in power usage or cost. The room-sized computers of the past have become handheld tablets that fit easily into our backpacks and purses. Since 2003, CCA has led the way in virtual education for Pennsylvania families. The idea of CCA came from seeing students being taught the same information at the same time, regardless of interest or capacity, which prompted the founding trustees to rethink the mission of education.
CCA’s approach to education is to meet kids where they are and personalize the learning process. Rather than expecting all students to learn the same material at the same time at the same rate, CCA assesses each student’s individual educational needs. By incorporating career-mindedness into elementary and secondary education, CCA strives to foster its learner’s interests and passions right from the start.
Using the power of the internet and advanced computer software, CCA can personalize each student’s curriculum to their individual needs. Here, students learn at their own pace with the freedom to progress faster in subjects they love — or spend more time on subjects they haven’t yet grasped.
Offering the Best Learning Experience
CCA’s mission is to deliver a personalized learning experience that engages the entire family and prepares learners to succeed in school and life. Tom’s commitment to bringing CCA’s mission to life rests on the fact that every child, regardless of their background, socioeconomic status, and beliefs, deserves a world-class, high-quality education. The key to achieving this goal is to meet each student’s unique needs.
In Pennsylvania, public cyber charter schools are available to any school-age child who resides in the state. A student’s education is predominately completed via the internet. From completing assignments to taking tests to submitting homework and projects, CCA’s learning management system, edio, is a one-stop-shop for students to learn, engage with teachers and classmates, and turn in work. Although virtually everything involving CCA is online, they recognize that face-to-face interaction and camaraderie are necessary and desired by students and families. CCA takes learning a step further by offering in-person field trips, clubs, and camps.
As a K through 12 public cyber charter school in Pennsylvania, CCA – a public school of choice – is open to any school-age child who resides in Pennsylvania. Under state law, families who choose to send their child to a public cyber charter school do not have to pay tuition; the child’s tuition is paid for by their school district of residence. CCA provides everything to a student that is needed to complete their online education, including a laptop, second monitor, printer, mouse, headsets, all textbooks and curriculum materials for every class, and financial assistance with technology costs (home internet, printer ink, paper, etc.).
What makes CCA attractive to both students and families is the personalized, flexible, high-quality programs. Through synchronous and asynchronous learning, families are able to tailor their child’s learning program to capitalize on their strengths while at the same time remediating and improving their so-called weaknesses. Every child can learn, and families are given the tools to make learning fun and engaging for their child.
Families know what is best for their child’s education, and CCA partners with families to provide them with the framework and pathways to successfully complete an online public education. Some families like a hands-off approach, some families like to be guided through the process, and some families like a mix of both; at CCA families are in full control of their child’s educational program from the time of day to complete schoolwork to where schoolwork will be completed. CCA is 100 percent geared toward meeting the needs of each individual student, one student at a time.
Serving Every Student
At CCA, students and families receive unmatched and best-in-class support. From one-on-one learning sessions with teachers to tutoring to evening support, CCA meets students where they are academically. They also swap out learning materials and books based on a family’s beliefs and implement lesson variants to accommodate a student’s learning style.
CCA also works closely with families of students with disabilities to create programs that allow students to grow personally and academically. Through in-house aids, state-of-the-art software, and age- and school-appropriate materials, students with disabilities can take full advantage of an online education.
Although CCA has grown to more than 25,000 students, Tom’s leadership style enables and encourages staff to assimilate into CCA’s student- and family-focused culture of delivering personalized education to each student. Regardless of how much CCA’s enrollment increases, Tom remains committed to serving every student, one student at a time.
Under Tom’s leadership, CCA launched its own in-house, custom-designed learning management system that is user-friendly, easy to navigate, and customizable for students and families. Known as edio, the academy’s proprietary learning management system was created with input from students, families, teachers, content specialists, and administrators.
In addition to the internet, CCA leverages laptops, external monitors, printers, an extensive network infrastructure, and a large variety of software to deliver online education to students. In addition, CCAis in the concept phase of implementing and leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) for students and teachers. This will lead to a more enhanced personalized learning program and additional tools for teachers to assist students.
Building A Bright Future
CCA’s students and families are the shining example of CCA’s success. Through their proprietary, user-friendly learning management system, edio, students are challenged academically and can regroup and repeat lessons, assignments, and assessments. “School is about learning, and school is where students should be allowed to make mistakes and try again. Learning takes place when students discover their mastery of concepts, and the bright light shines when they get it,” elucidates Tom. “Each year, thousands of students successfully complete their learning program and are promoted to the next grade or reach the end of their secondary education and receive their high school diploma.” Students, families, and staff join together to celebrate these momentous occasions and congratulate students for their success. Year after year, excluding graduates, more than 94 percent of students and families return to CCA because of their learning programs and their caring and compassionate staff … How School Should Work!
CCA partners with businesses and organizations across Pennsylvania to provide students with hands-on, on-the-job training. From construction to emergency medical services to advanced technology, CCA students are afforded ample opportunities to secure credentials and certifications in a variety of industries. Employers embrace these partnerships because students gain real-world experience and learn tricks of the trade, thereby preparing them to enter the workforce after graduation. Many students also pursue postsecondary education pathways based on the field in which they are interested, and the education and training required. CCA’s goal is to give every student sufficient opportunity to explore a variety of careers.
CCA has achieved much and has a great deal to celebrate. Tom’s vision and steady hand have paved the way for CCA to become the premier, most sought-after public cyber charter school in Pennsylvania. With enrollment nearly tripling in three years, CCA has become the leader in online education. CCA’s student- and family-focused approach has attracted thousands of families. Through word-of-mouth promotion by families, the CCA community has become a household name across the state. Tom’s continued leadership and innovative style pushed the envelope by making CCA a school like no other.
Tom has charged the team with the task of building an artificial intelligence (AI) proof of concept for the benefit of students and teachers, as well as devising a strategy to share CCA’s expertise, learning management system, and courses with other schools. While CCA continues to build upon its success with its students and families, Tom’s vision is to partner with other schools to provide every child with access to wide-ranging learning opportunities complemented by a high-quality, customized, flexible education.