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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Virtual Innovation Schools: Waiver Request from the Greenfield School Committee

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
May 11, 2012

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MAVA@Greenfield is now completing its second year as the state's first virtual public school. The school was established in September 2010 by the Greenfield School Committee under the auspices of the Innovation School statute (M.G.L. c.71, s.92). The school is operated by a private firm, K12 Inc., under contract to the Greenfield school district.

The school currently serves 484 students, so it is nearing the 500-student limit established by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in the regulations governing virtual innovation schools, 603 CMR 48.05. In its first year, the school served students in kindergarten through eighth grade; for this current year, the Board permitted last year's eighth graders to continue into the ninth grade. Most of the students are from districts other than Greenfield, as permitted by the Board's grant of a waiver of the out-of-district enrollment restrictions in each of the first two years.

Here is the data from the school's first MCAS test administration, in the spring of 2011:

Accountability: MCAS Tests of Spring 2011
 AdvancedProficientNeeds ImprovementWarning/FailingStudents IncludedCPISGPSGP Included
All Grades ELA361241210881.326.526
All Grades Math425393210360.218.025

Given the organizational challenges faced by any school in its first year, the fact that virtual schools are still a relatively new model, and the unique characteristics of the target student population, I believe it is premature to draw any conclusions based on one year of testing results.

Superintendent Susan Hollins, on behalf of the Greenfield School Committee, has submitted a request for a continuation of the existing waiver into 2012-13, to allow MAVA@Greenfield to continue to serve a significant number of out-of-district students in grades K-8 (see correspondence, attached). Greenfield is also requesting permission to expand the enrollment to 750-800 students, to allow for open enrollment of students in grades 9-12.

Over the past two years the Board has had several policy discussions on the topic of virtual schools, including a review of the experiences in other states where virtual schools have become an established part of the public education landscape. Last year the Board concluded that if virtual schools were to be expanded in Massachusetts, there should be a stronger state oversight role than the Innovation School model provides. Following the Board's recommendation, legislation was filed (H.3873) to give the Board and the Department a significant role in establishing requirements for, and authorizing the operation of, public virtual schools. This proposal is currently under discussion in the Legislature, and if it is enacted, we will begin the regulatory and selection process that could result in the opening of additional virtual schools as early as September 2013.

Virtual schools present a host of unique administrative and policy issues. The Department has worked closely with Superintendent Hollins and Greenfield district staff to address these issues in the context of MAVA@Greenfield. Examples include the logistics of MCAS test administration, the billing and collection of tuition fees for non-resident students, and the assignment of appropriate responsibilities for special education services. Our experience with MAVA@Greenfield will greatly inform our work with future public virtual schools.

Given this pending legislation, my recommendation to you parallels last year's action. I recommend that the Board grant a waiver to allow the continued operation of MAVA@Greenfield as it is currently constituted, and that you permit current 8th and 9th graders to remain enrolled as 9th and 10th graders. But I also recommend that you defer, for one more year, the district's request for an expansion in the school's size to allow for open enrollment in grades 9-12. I continue to believe that the expansion of MAVA@Greenfield, and the potential opening of other public virtual schools, should be done under the expanded oversight framework in the pending legislation. A motion reflecting this recommendation is attached for your consideration.

If you need any additional information regarding this agenda item, please contact me or Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson.

Attachments:

Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Waiver request from Greenfield Public Schools
 
Motion


Last Updated: May 3, 2012
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