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Virtual School

Greenfield may amend virtual school contract

Some panel members want changes to protect district’s future interests

GREENFIELD — As the Greenfield School District enters the final seven months of its $2 million contract with virtual school curriculum provider K12, some school committee members want to amend the contract to protect the district’s future interests.

The three-year contract with K12 — a Virginia-based online company that provides teachers, curriculum, online learning tools and physical course materials for Greenfield’s Massachusetts Virtual Academy — will expire on June 30.

But even before the district begins negotiations with K12 in January, School Committee members on Tuesday discussed potential amendments to the current contract. The biggest change would allow the district to renew with K12 for one year, instead of another three-year deal.

Chairman John Lunt said that the changes — which K12 has agreed to, according to school officials — will help the district keep all its options open moving forward.

With pending legislation that would give the state’s department of elementary and secondary education control over virtual schools, the Greenfield school’s immediate future remains unclear. The district does not want to be stuck in a long-term contract with a curriculum provider, said Lunt.

“These changes are all to ... get us to a point where we won’t fight with anyone, including K12, if we don’t want to continue in a contractual sense,” he said.

The School Committee needs to approve the changes before they can take effect. A vote was scheduled to take place at Tuesday’s meeting, but prolonged discussion and the absence of the amendments at the meeting led Lunt to table the motion.

The vote will now take place during a School Committee meeting next week. Lunt said the time and location of that meeting will be determined in the next few days.

A conversation about the proposed amendments Tuesday changed course into discussions about K12, the pending state bill and which subcommittees should handle issues related to Greenfield’s virtual school.

“We can’t get into a conversation about the pros and cons of virtual schools,” Lunt told the committee. “That conversation can wait until we talk about a successor contract (beginning in January).”

Ryan Clepper, a K12 employee and head program administrator for Greenfield’s virtual school, attended the meeting, although he did not speak.

The end of a three-year contract

Greenfield and K12’s relationship started in 2008 when the district began to seriously consider creating a virtual school.

A contract was written and was set to be signed in summer 2009, but the state stepped in, delaying the school’s start date by one year.

A $2 million contract was signed on July 16, 2010. That money, roughly $5,000 per pupil, is public funding that comes from the districts across Massachusetts that send students to the Greenfield virtual school. There were 460 students enrolled at the start of this school year.

K12 is being investigated and scrutinized in states across the country, with some concerned that public dollars are being used to pay for ineffective education.

“There continue to be unanswered questions about what seems to be very basic questions,” said Greenfield resident Helene Powers during the School Committee meeting’s public comment section. “Is K12 serving Greenfield and other students well? What data do you have? ... If K12 is as good as they say they are, they shouldn’t hesitate to provide you with solid information.”

But Superintendent Susan Hollins said later in the meeting that the issues other states may have with K12 aren’t an issue in Greenfield.

Greenfield’s school is among the few public virtual schools that work with K12, said Hollins. Many schools that work with the curriculum provider are charter schools and have no oversight by a local school committee, she said.

“We very much run the school,” she said. “We have our own school committee policies on how things are going to be handled.”

So while K12 is being investigated in Florida’s Seminole County for the possible use of unlicensed teachers, Hollins said that is not a factor here.

“I don’t know how other virtual schools hire their teachers, but I have a list of MAVA teachers with me (and) every single one has a Massachusetts teacher license,” she said. “Whatever the issues are across the country, we are (controlling) the education at our school.”

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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