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Virtual School

Board OKs virtual school proposal

GREENFIELD — After four hours of debate Thursday night, the Greenfield School Committee approved a 45-page proposal that outlined the school department’s plans to convert its 3-year-old cyber school into a new state-authorized virtual school.

The School Committee needed to sign off on the document and send it to state officials by Monday for their review. They approved the proposal 5-2, with dissenting votes from members Maryelen Calderwood and Francia Wisnewski.

Throughout the meeting, members expressed the importance of selecting the new board of trustees and planning the new school with that board — the body that will run the school independently from the school department — as soon as possible.

They also acknowledged that the new law is uncertain about how to carry out some procedures — such as teaching students who are learning English as a second language and those who qualify to receive free and reduced lunches. These areas, among others, will be a part of an ongoing discussion with state officials, they said.

The school would be its own entity, with a separate budget, run by the board. The new school would likely continuing contracting curriculum services to the Virginia-based for-profit company K12. It could also contract services with Greenfield Public Schools and with the town.

Calderwood made a motion that no Greenfield Public School administrators should spend time working for the new virtual school.

She said that Superintendent Susan Hollins was hired to be the Greenfield superintendent and that is where her time and energy should be spent. Although another entity can hire Hollins for contracted services, said Calderwood, it should not interfere with her job managing the Greenfield schools.

After several minutes of debate, Calderwood withdrew her motion.

Members took turns making motions to change the wording of the proposal. Calderwood and Wisnewski — the two members who voted against drafting a proposal last month — routinely abstained from voting on the changes.

An innovation subcommittee charged with crafting the document has met six times since the beginning of March to discuss the virtual school — including a four-hour session spread over Wednesday and Thursday mornings to finish the proposal.

Superintendent Susan Hollins logged late-night hours to write the proposal, suggesting phrasing and wording for the subcommittee’s approval and adopting some sections from the current school’s innovation plan.

Chairman John Lunt and Mayor William Martin both congratulated Hollins on penning a document that would serve as a blueprint for future cyber schools.

But other members said they were discouraged they did not have enough time to review it before the meeting. Members received the document in segments over the course of Thursday.

The virtual school uses the Internet to teach 470 students, including a dozen from Greenfield. The new school could teach as many as 1,750 by 2017.

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