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Virtual School

Virtual School meeting with state Thursday

GREENFIELD — Greenfield school officials have now cleared all local hurdles in their quest for a cyber school to continue in town next year.

But the school department’s virtual school proposal — to transform its 3-year-old cyber innovation school into an independent state-authorized virtual school, as required by a new law — still needs state approval in order to happen.

Greenfield representatives will travel to Malden on Thursday for a private interview with state officials — the last major step before Commissioner Mitchell Chester makes a recommendation to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on whether it should endorse Greenfield’s proposal.

“There is a presumption that if Greenfield submits an acceptable application, the state board will approve it,” said state spokesman JC Considine on Tuesday.

“Obviously, this is a new, emerging initiative. We don’t expect this applicant group — particularly given that the state has yet to release further regulations — to pinpoint every last detail,” he said. “But we do expect a strong application.”

Superintendent Susan Hollins, Mayor William Martin and Innovation Subcommittee Chairwoman Doris Doyle will represent Greenfield at the meeting. Some of the newly appointed virtual school trustees may be in attendance, but likely not all. And Martin is hoping to bring along Franklin County’s legislators, as well.

Considine said that the school’s newly appointed board of trustees — selected by the School Committee last week to autonomously run the school after July 1 — should be at Thursday’s meeting since it will be that body that would receive the state certificate to run the school.

Hollins argued Tuesday that those individuals were just appointed and that she and the School Committee — the writers of the proposal — should be the ones to defend it.

The state board — which could award a certificate as short as three years or as long as five — can also choose to place certain conditions on the certificate, said Considine.

Greenfield officials are most concerned that the state will not approve a proposed increase in the school’s tuition — paid by for students’ host districts, similar to the School Choice model.

The base tuition, according to the law, is $4,925 — an amount that school officials said is far too low to properly run the independent school. In their proposal, school officials asked for tuition to increase to between $7,600 and $8,600.

Considine said that Thursday’s interview is closed to the public.

“The Department has hundreds of meetings with district officials each month,” he said. “We do not open these meetings to the public, nor are we required to.”

Preparing for a new school

Meanwhile, Greenfield officials are moving ahead with plans to transition the school if the proposal is approved.

Hollins has organized weekly seminars to bring the newly appointed trustees up to speed on the school’s students, administrative structure, curriculum agreement with vendor K12 and more.

The school department’s business office will work with the trustees so that they can be ready to manage finances, hire employees and sign contractual agreements after they take over on July 1.

The board won’t be an official body until after that day and only if a state certificate is granted. At an innovation subcommittee Tuesday, Martin stressed the importance for the school department to not action for the board.

“We can project what they’d need in the future but it’s up to them to make their decisions,” he said.

School officials want the virtual school to have a new office somewhere in downtown Greenfield — where administrators and teachers can work, students can seek help and parents and residents can walk in and visit.

Hollins suggested the virtual school set up a temporary home next year in the Green River School building on Meridian Street. The virtual school would have to pay full rent rate for the space, she said.

Martin, who felt that option did not provide enough separation between the virtual school and the school department, proposed that the board rent out space in the former Lunt Silversmith property — which the town is still trying to secure.

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