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Virtual School

Virtual school proposal taking shape

GREENFIELD — The school district’s innovation subcommittee intends to apply for a five-year certificate for a new state-authorized virtual school that would use the Internet to serve as many as 1,750 students across the state by 2017.

Subcommittee members Doris Doyle, John Lunt and Mayor William Martin met with Superintendent Susan Hollins for two hours Friday — the first public look at what this new cyber school in Greenfield may look like. With the opportunity to now enroll high school students, the 470-student school could grow by 250 each year.

Local students could attend for free and would need to make up at least 2 percent of the school’s population. And the district’s brick-and-mortar school students could continue to take specialized virtual education courses. The district currently can use as many as 100 free yearlong courses each school year.

Unlike the Massachusetts Virtual Academy, which Greenfield has run as a virtual innovation school since 2010, the School Committee would cease its involvement with the new cyber school after July 1. A law passed earlier this year mandates that state-authorized virtual schools will be run by a separate board of trustees and have its own budget.

Lunt, the School Committee chairman, views the proposal as a chance to show the state what Greenfield has learned from its three years in virtual school education. The subcommittee is focusing on getting all the pieces in line to set the school in motion before it steps away on June 30.

Part of that process will involve choosing the first three board members. In the subcommittee’s dreams, one trustee would be a former School Committee member, one would have financial/accounting expertise and another would have a legal background.

The board could grow to as many as seven trustees. The first three would make future appointments, and the positions could be paid. That board would make all future decisions about the school, including ones regarding contracted services and agreements with the district.

In the immediate future, the new virtual school would continue contracting curriculum services with for-profit company K12. But, just like now, it would be local administrators managing and overseeing operations, subcommittee members said.

The subcommittee wants the new virtual school’s organization structure to include its own superintendent, special education director and business manager. The virtual school will contract with the Greenfield school district’s administration during a transition period, before hiring its own staff.

Subcommittee members said the virtual school would likely contract with the Greenfield school district for other services, like data management, on a more long-term basis.

And to reflect the true cost of running a virtual school, the subcommittee plans to ask for an increase in student tuition — which is paid by host districts and currently capped at $5,000. The subcommittee didn’t discuss on Friday just how much of an increase it will ask for.

The full committee will vote on the proposal at its April 18 meeting, four days before it is due to the state. The subcommittee has until that meeting to make revisions and will meet again on Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the school district’s Davis Street office.

You can reach Chris Shores at:

cshores@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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