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Virtual School

Some cyber school applicants more of a threat to Greenfield

Six groups, including two from western Massachusetts, met a state deadline earlier this month to seek permission to open virtual schools that could compete with Greenfield’s pioneering virtual school.

The plans the groups provided to the state — with details that could change when it comes time to actually apply — suggest that four of the applicants would pose some threat of competition to the Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School.

The state will award certificates in February for schools to open for the 2014-15 school year. The cyber schools that are selected could have financial ramifications for Greenfield.

The town would have to pay tuition for any of its own residents who “choice out” to another virtual school. And Greenfield’s virtual school, now autonomous from the school department, would lose out on revenue with every student who elected to go elsewhere.

Western Massachusetts applicants

Two local entities, the Collaborative for Educational Services and Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, are working on a joint application for a virtual school. The Mattie Knight Commonwealth Virtual School would enroll 100 students from sixth grade to 12th grade, according to the initial plan.

The collaboratives have a wide range of students they’d target, with some focus areas that overlap those of the Greenfield virtual school. The virtual school would also be open to students from all over the state.

It’s unclear if the collaboratives will offer a discount to their member districts — who together enroll nearly 48,500 students up and down the Pioneer Valley. All Franklin County public school districts, including Greenfield, are members of the Collaborative for Educational Services.

The Children’s Study Home, a Springfield nonprofit organization that mainly serves at-risk children in the Pioneer Valley and Cape Cod, is also vying for a virtual school certificate this fall.

Its proposed Mill Pond Commonwealth Virtual School would serve 300 students from kindergarten to eighth grade. In its initial plan, the organization said it would aim for about 75 percent of its students to be local, targeting those from Springfield as well as students from nearby districts with specialized behavioral or social emotional needs.

K12 working with other applicant

Only two groups indicated that they have already selected a curriculum partner — a company that provides the online interface for virtual learning.

The North Middlesex Regional School District, a 3,600-student district located about 60 miles east of Greenfield, wants to create a broad-brush statewide virtual school for 300 students from all grades.

It would partner with K12, Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School’s curriculum provider, to make that happen.

Meanwhile, another potential virtual school applicant is partnering with Connections Academy, a Baltimore-based curriculum company that competes with K12 for cyber schools all over the country.

The Education Cooperative, which serves about 50,000 students from districts near Boston, is proposing a 1,500-student virtual school for all grades. It would offer increased academic opportunities, including a science/technology academy, an arts academy, personalized internships and early college learning experiences.

That school, too, would be open to students from across the state.

Two groups pose less of a threat

A proposed school in central Massachusetts — planned by the CAPS and FLAAC collaboratives, who serve nearly 38,000 students from 16 school districts — would serve 150 “at-risk” youth from eighth grade and high school.

Enrollment would be limited to within those member districts, which does include Orange elementary schools and the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School.

The target student populations, though, would include drop-outs and those who have been expelled — which does not directly overlap the students the Greenfield virtual school tries to enroll.

Similarly, the Boston Public Schools’ planned school would not pose a high threat, either.

The city rolled out a plan to start a 250-student school for high school freshmen and sophomores. Its target students — half of whom would be from Boston — would include students who are pregnant, have children, expelled or suspended, over traditional age, repeating grades or those who are bound to a home or hospital.


Greenfield virtual school starts new year

Friday, August 30, 2013

GREENFIELD — While six potential applicant groups across the state continue to pull together their future cyber school plans, Massachusetts’ first and only state-authorized virtual school began another school year last week in Greenfield. The Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School is now in its fourth year, although it became independent of the Greenfield School Department this July. … 0

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