Dhyana Ziegler Is Set to Lead the Florida Virtual School–Can She Get It Out Of Trouble?

By Cait Etherington
April 13, 2019

After a rocky year that included a massive data breach, a series of employee disputes, the departure of the school’s longstanding legal counsel, and a series of sexual harassment allegations, the Florida Virtual School has appointed a former member of the board, Dhyana Ziegler, to serve as its interim chief executive. Ziegler’s appointment comes after the recent death of 60-year-old Robert Porter who was appointed President and CEO of the Florida Virtual School late last year and passed away in March. While Ziegler is certainly well positioned to lead the school during this difficult time, she has a tough road ahead of her.

Who is Dhyana Ziegler?

Dhyana Ziegler is no stranger to the Florida Virtual School. She served on the school’s board for almost 19 years. More recently, she moved into a new role at the Florida Virtual School as senior executive director for external affairs. But Ziegler doesn’t simply bring a familiarity with the Florida Virtual School to this new role. Over the past two decades, she has also served as an administrator and professor at Florida A&M University and is respected statewide as someone with a deep knowledge of Florida’s education system.

As recently reported in the Orlando Sentinel, Ziegler was nominated to step into the role of interim chief executive by board member Linda Pelligrini. As Pelligrini told the Orlando Sentinel, “We need somebody now that is going to stabilize us. She knows FLVS. She’s respected by everyone.” Clearly, the school’s other board members agreed. They voted unanimously to appoint Ziegler as interim chief executive.

Ziegler Has Her Work Cut Out

The Florida Virtual School has close to 2,200 employees and, in 2018, the school served more than 200,000 students. While the numbers may appear high, they largely reflect the fact that most of the school’s students do not attend on a full-time basis but simply rely on the school to satisfy Florida’s online course requirement. Notably, Florida is one of only five U.S. states with a mandatory online course requirement for high school graduation.

As interim chief executive, Ziegler will be responsible for steering Florida’s largest school and, hopefully, steering it out of trouble.

Since early 2018, the Florida Virtual School has been plagued with problems. First, the school admitted to compromising thousands of students’ personal educational records. Then there was a failed attempt among some of the school’s teachers to organize a union. Following the failed union drive, at least one of the teachers at the center of the effort received a notice indicating that their position would be terminated, unless they relocated to Florida (previously, the Florida Virtual School had not taken issue with teachers working for the school while residing in other U.S. states).

By August 2018, the school was wheeling from a series of revelations that eventually led to the resignation of Frank Kruppenbacher, who had long served as the school’s chief legal counsel. In the midst of the Kruppenbacher fallout, other issues arose, including allegations of sexual harassment. Kruppenbacher has denied all wrongdoing.

Finally, to complicate matters, the Florida Virtual School has come under scrutiny for attempting to keep their current problems out of the public eye by withholding some documents and making others prohibitively expensive for members of the public to access.

To begin rebuilding the Florida Virtual School’s once strong reputation as a leader in public online schooling, Ziegler will need to not only keep the school operating while a permanent president and CEO is found to replace Porter but also continue doing damage control. How long Ziegler will serve as interim CEO is unclear, but the Florida Virtual School’s Chairman, Robert Gidel, has told the Orlando Sentinel that the search for a new permanent president will begin this month.