First Virtual School in Massachusetts Approved for Expansion

The Massachusetts Virtual School has received final approval for expansion from the state education board via a 9-1 vote, Chris Shores of The Recorder reports. The school will be based on Greenfield and will enroll up to 750 students who will attend classes over the internet.

The school will accept enrollment of students from all over the state and cover grades K through 12. Two-hundred fifty of the school's 750 projected enrollment is anticipated to be from grades 9-12.

The vote came after 6 months of uncertainty for the school, which has enrolled only primary school students for three years.

The state board approval also means that the state will take an increased role in the school's oversight. Starting next week, the school will also pass from under the control of Greenfield School Committee and the primary responsibility for it will now rest in a five-member board of trustees.

"The new board of trustees is diligent, intelligent, and interested in goals of this school," said Superintendent Susan Hollins. "I believe Greenfield's unique virtual school has a good future in store and that the original goals for creating the school, including benefit for Greenfield and its students, will be fulfilled."

Ed Berlin, a Greenfield resident who has become the unofficial leader of the future board of trustees, said the group was relieved to learn the state would approve the school — and is now ready to take over next week.

Until the trustees actually take over the school, they are not bound by the state's Open Meeting Law, which means the planning for the eventual takeover was done virtually, as trustees communicated chiefly via conference calls and emails.

Even prior to the board's approval, Berlin announced the school's intention to enter into a contract with for-profit K12 to purchase its curriculum services. The direct management of the school will remain with the Greenfield School Department, although both of these arrangements might change in the future.

It is expected that MVS is only the first of online schools that will be approved in the coming years thanks to a law passed earlier this year which gave the state the authority to approve virtual charters.

It had initially seemed like smooth sailing. Hollins and a majority of the school board have long supported the school as a haven for students who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to perform well in public brick-and-mortar schools.

And while the town needed to submit an application to the state by late March, this had originally been considered a formality — since the Legislature included a special provision for Greenfield to keep its virtual school.

In a surprising move, the School Committee declined to file an application and was only convinced to change its mind after numerous petitions from parents and assurances from the state that local control of the MVS will be preserved as much as possible.

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