Al Shilling was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1965, just a few days before the historic Gateway Arch National Monument was complete. He spent considerable time at museums, was an average student for most of his young life and always made it home in time to watch TV show reruns like “Batman” or “Gilligan’s Island”, or listen to music like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Rush, Santana, Journey, or Fleetwood Mac… very loud before his parents would get home from work.
In 1984, he graduated from Saint Louis University High School and went to Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau –- not known for much of anything beyond being the hometown of Rush Limbaugh and where, in 1799, American settlers founded the first English school west of the Mississippi River. It seemed appropriate, graduating from the oldest operating secondary school west of the Mississippi followed with nostalgia and consistency.
Al enjoyed college. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons he learned was that of independence. At the age of 19, out of money, Al enlisted in the Air Force Reserve which led to an ROTC scholarship for Pilot Training. Al had difficulty settling down to one degree. He did manage to work at three different radio and TV Stations while attending college in addition to his military obligations. This stretched the experience to a very worthwhile 5 years. Al ultimately decided upon Radio/TV & Film for a major because of the creativity and the sharing of information that people wanted. He received a commission as Lieutenant in the Air Force then graduated in May 1989.
Al chased his dream to Columbus Air Force Base where the dream of a flying career was short lived. With only a few weeks remaining, Al encountered landing difficulty in a T-38 Talon. At a time when the military was drawing down its officer corp, Al had to use his backup plan. He went back to work in TV.
In 1991, Al worked as a videographer, editor and producer for WCBI TV in Columbus Mississippi and found his way to WINK-TV in Fort Myers Florida. At WINK, Al shot, produced and edited news and features, ultimately being introduced to one of the world’s first non-linear (computer based) editing devices of the era. He became one of the first non-linear editors of broadcast news in the world.
Along the way, he was steadily promoted, becoming an assignment editor, director of special projects, and helped teach new staff members effective broadcast journalism techniques. He received multiple Associated Press, Addy, and National Association of Press Photographer awards for news, documentary and commercial work.
In 1994 Al left broadcasting to pursue freelance and corporate production work. Through this part of his career, he was introduced to and learned to create what was then called “interactive media.” Today, if you could find one, you would call it a giant DVD with a pen that scans barcodes. But the juxtaposition of service to the community, video, editing and computers was about to take a rapid turn for Al. He was about to become, “Mr. Shilling.”
In 1995, Al worked a few hours each week doing some part time work at a new high school art program, teaching 9th graders the basics of camera operation and editing. Their first project did very well at a state media competition and late that summer, the Director of the school invited Al in and asked him if he would like to teach full time. Up to that point, he had never taken an education class or worked in a school. Al accepted and, with a simple sign on a classroom door he became “Mr. Shilling.”
From 1995 to 2004, he developed a complete industry based media arts curriculum in which students learned through a classroom that was set up the same as a video or film production facility. Students worked in various above and below the line roles, ultimately moving into production jobs throughout the area and beyond. They won regional state and national contests for productions. They provided presentation support for school, district, and state level events. Al’s students worked diligently each year to be selected to travel to Las Vegas for an annual field trip for the National Association of Broadcasters convention.
Ultimately, the operation ran itself. Students were managing, learning from and teaching one another. They sought information on their own and shared and assisted each other to resolve editorial, technical and business problems. Al likes that he was teaching soft-skills before they had the term.
With the advent of high definition video and the increasing reliance of education on technology, Al was asked to take
on an administrative position at the district level. He reluctantly left his empire of students, computers, studio and classrooms. He had built the best and now it was on to another challenge.
Phasing out standard definition, tube televisions in a school district that operated in excess of 7000 television sets, was a significant challenge. Working with knowledge acquired through those Vegas field trips, Al introduced the district to cost effective, expandable video recording, transmission and display systems. Common place today, in 2004, VOiP was a pretty cool idea and those who knew about it were even cooler.
While a Supervisor in Information Technology, Al brokered an excess capacity lease for legacy bandwidth the school district was licensed but had not use. This lease brought over 30 million dollars to the district in cash and credits for other devices.
In the Spring of 2006, Al was introduced to the idea of combining his military, video and education experience together. A local performance boat company had secured a contract with the United States Department of Defense/Southern Command, to produce a dozen, 52-foot “interceptors” as part of “Operation Enduring Friendship,” a joint border security operation with Caribbean and Latin American nations. The boats would be built here, the crews brought and trained here, then sent back to their respective nations to assist in the defense of the american borders on the water. This project represented the first time a public school system partnered with the DOD. Al oversaw and managed the education and communication training activities for the domestic and offshore naval and Coast Guard personnel from the U.S. and partner nations.
By 2009, Al completed post graduate work to receive a masters in Education Leadership. The intention was to return to a school and work with students. The reality was forging the Lee Virtual School out of nothing more than a few pages of vague legislation, a small office and staff of one. Al had wanted to someday have his own school, and now he had it. In a small quiet office in 2009, Al Shilling was promoted to Principal, Lee Virtual School.
Lee Virtual School was not very well known in 2009. We had one graduate and approximately 40 students in grades K-12 in that first year. In 7 years, the word got out. Today, over 300 full time students, and about 2 thousand part-time students, LVS has secured a place as a top virtual school in Florida and the nation. LVS is a top 10% ranked school among ALL public schools, not just virtual. The school consistently receives an “A” grade from the state and boasts high completion rates, test scores and staff consistency. From a staff of one to a team of 35, LVS has developed a new culture of learning under the vision, leadership and direction of Al Shilling.
Outside of his career, Al is a father and husband and still likes to fix his own car. His three children, Ashley, Albert and Julia are the light of his world. He finds his passion and soul mate in his wife, Maria. They live in a quiet area of North Fort Myers, Florida. They enjoy traveling, music, fishing, games, family and friends.