Massachusetts’ First Virtual High School on Probation


The Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School has been put on probation by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The 20-month probation, which comes under the recommendation of Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester, is set to expire on June 30, 2016 when the school’s certificate with the state expires.

Board of Trustees chairman Chris Joseph said he has complete confidence that the school will meet the goals set by the state while continuing on its own set path.  If the goals are not met, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education could shut the school down.

Opening in 2010, the school became the state’s first virtual secondary school, running in affiliation with Greenfield Public Schools.  Since that time, a second virtual secondary school has opened in eastern Massachusetts and the academy was asked to relinquish its connection to the public school system, at which time it formed its own Board of Trustees.  School curricula is supplied by K12 Inc.

According to Joseph, many of the problems listed are merely growing pains.

“Before 2013 we didn’t exist,” Joseph said. “We’re a completely different school.”

In a June 5 visit to the school’s office by state education officials, it became apparent that performance levels at the school have dropped every year since 2010.  In addition, the school was not doing enough to show that it was reaching out to English language learners and students with disabilities.  Joseph said new policies have been put in place to help these students.

“When the state came in June, we knew what we needed to address,” Executive Director Carl Tillona said. “We spent the summer addressing those issues. I feel very positive about the direction of the school. I think we have a plan moving forward that echoes everything in the accountability review that the state wants us to address.”

Joseph said the school has not met state guidelines because curriculum from K12 Inc runs on a national scale.

“We’re working to make our curriculum align to the Massachusetts curriculum,” he said. “We think our teachers are teaching good and useful things and that the kids are learning.”

Since the state visit, the school has placed a new protocol for a special education department, created a Title 1 program, and created a tutoring center.  A number of new positions have been created at the school, including a reading specialist, math interventionist and school psychologist, as well as three family engagement counselors who will be helpful in the creation of programs for English language learners.

Bi-weekly, one-on-one faculty meetings will help teachers have a better understanding of how to utilize and improve MCAS scores.

A teacher evaluation system has also been created through MyLearningPlan OAS, which offers an observation system online through self-reflective assignments, peer reviews and observations, and student data.

The academy has expanded to include elementary grades.  It currently enrolls 715 students, up from 450 last year.