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Virtual School

Virtual school blinks out

A four-year educational arrangement in the Greenfield Public Schools is slated to come to an end in June.

The running of a virtual school in what was a public-private partnership was at best a noble experiment and at worst an effort that all of the best intentions on Greenfield’s part were not going to get to succeed because of the skepticism from the very beginning on the part of the state.

Let’s not forget that the concept of students, from elementary school through high school, attending classes via the Internet caught the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education off-guard when Greenfield first decided to partner with K12, an online education curriculum company based in Virginia.

And its response throughout has been less than enthusiastic, and at times a bit hostile. It’s as if the state was reluctant to get involved, though it had been dealing with online classes and interest in virtual schools for years before Greenfield took its step.

Since then, it took officials years to finally write and pass a law that provides the department control over the future of virtual schools in the state. And while the law would “grandfather” Greenfield, whereby the district could transform its operation to match with what the state thinking, let’s not forget that the bill didn’t include Greenfield until state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg pushed through a clause that provided the district with assurances it could have a virtual school this fall.

This has been about the state protecting its turf and control and not necessarily wanting to see Greenfield’s experiment succeed. Otherwise, why was the state once again caught off-guard, this time by the town’s decision not to proceed?

Where was the advisory panel that the state had formed to create the virtual-school legislation? Shouldn’t that body have been a vehicle of communication between the state and Greenfield?

While we’ve heard plenty of concern over Greenfield’s Massachusetts Virtual Academy, where was the encouragement, where was the affirmation that the state had the district’s back when it came to the operation?

Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson’s comments are telling: “Had we known Greenfield was not interested, we probably wouldn’t have spent any time working on their transition. We might have been able to focus on getting some new schools open.” If Greenfield was so critical to the state’s plans this year, why wasn’t that conveyed to the School Committee?

This has never been about Greenfield, it’s been about the state and its getting a stronger and better handle on virtual schools.

Regardless of the spin now, it took four years for the town to get the real message.

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