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Virtual School

Editorial: Virtual school

The relationship between Greenfield School Department and K-12 Inc., the for-profit company that provides curriculum services for the virtual school, remains in many ways a grand experiment.

This is despite the fact that the two have partnered to provide online education for Massachusetts residents since 2009 — what once existed and what now is being developed offer very disparate looks.

It’s not necessarily that what the students and their families will see in using what is now being called Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School will be strikingly different. Rather, it’s the changes taking place behind the scenes — alterations that should reduce some of the burden that Greenfield has carried these past years.

Let’s begin with the state’s role.

While Massachusetts education officials may have noted the idea of a virtual school on its radar somewhere, it’s clear that Greenfield’s decision to enter into a public/private partnership with the Virginia-based company took officials by surprise and changed the pace at which the state had been putting together a plan. While we continue to have concerns about what kind of partner the state will be, we do think that a true benefit here is in having active state oversight.

Massachusetts can be quite particular about what students should be getting through educational services as well as the how the contract is structured.

That oversight is now extended, adding the requirement that the Greenfield virtual school experiment have its own board, separate from the Greenfield School Committee. It’s not only another set of eyes but one closer and more focused on what is happening on a day-to day and week-to-week basis. As Ed Berlin, chairman of the new virtual school’s board of trustees, said earlier this year, “we will be looking at everything.” This includes the structure of the school so that it can be determined if this “is the best way to do it.”

But that’s not what will be determined in the coming year or so. The Greenfield Public Schools will be providing the virtual school this year with essentially the duties of the “central office,” what Superintendent Susan Hollins and her staff on Davis Street provide for the “brick-and-mortar” schools in town. As Mayor William Martin said recently, “this is a one-year experiment for us to co-mingle the two school systems.” Should it turn out well, “It’s very possible that we can offer services to other smaller school systems and districts.”

Should this come about, it would be a new take on the state’s desire for regionalization for school services, particularly administrative.

With all of this, there’s much to learn, to see and tweak. We look forward to learning more as the year progresses.

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