Mass.gov
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Go to Selected Program Area
Massachusetts State Seal
Students & Families Educators & Administrators Teaching, Learning & Testing Data & Accountability Finance & Funding About the Department Education Board  
>
>
>
>
>
>
>

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Virtual Schools - Recommendation for New Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual School

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
June 18, 2013

line

Following the enactment of legislation in January 2013, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) released a request for proposals (RFP) to establish a Commonwealth of Massachusetts virtual school (CMVS). We limited this request for proposals to existing virtual innovation schools that sought to open as a CMVS in the 2013-2014 school year.

We received a response and application from Greenfield Public Schools (Greenfield). While the application submitted by Greenfield addresses the elements specified in the virtual schools statute, the application is not particularly strong. As explained further below, I am recommending that the Board grant a certificate to the board of trustees of the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School, but I am also recommending that the Board impose on the certificate a number of conditions related to areas of the application that need further development.

Statutory Requirements

On January 2, 2013, Governor Patrick signed into law Chapter 379 of the Acts of 2012, "An Act Establishing Commonwealth Virtual Schools" (Act). (See enclosure, most of which is codified as G.L. c. 71, § 94.) The new law authorizes the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) to adopt regulations and, through the Department, to oversee the establishment and operation of publicly funded, high quality virtual schools in the Commonwealth. The Board memo from the January 2013 meeting highlights key components of the law.

The new statute is responsive to the position the Board adopted in 2011: that there should be a stronger oversight and consumer protection role for the state than the one provided by the innovation school statute. Under the new law, approval by the Board is required to establish a virtual school serving students from more than one district. As with charter schools, the Board will make the final decision on whether to grant a certificate, based upon the commissioner's recommendation.

Section 6 of the Act requires the Board to grant a certificate to operate a CMVS to Greenfield upon submission of a timely application that addresses the information specified in the virtual schools statute at G.L. c. 71, § 94(b) (Chapter 379, section 5, of the Acts of 2012). As noted in the statute, the current virtual innovation school in Greenfield, the Massachusetts Virtual Academy of Greenfield (MAVA), will cease to exist on July 1, 2013.

Application Review Process

The Department's Office of Digital Learning conducted a multi-step review of the final application. The goal in this process is to ensure the applicant demonstrates the greatest potential for creating a successful, high quality CMVS.

The review process included the following:

  • The application was reviewed by an advisory panel that included both Department staff and an external reviewer. Panel members individually reviewed the application based on the RFP evaluation criteria, and then the entire panel met to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the application. The panel developed questions for the upcoming Department interview with the applicant group.
  • A public hearing was held at the Department on May 6, 2013. Board member David Roach conducted the hearing with support from fellow member Harneen Chernow and Secretary Malone's designee, Jim DiTullio. We made a video recording of the hearing, and Board members who wish to view the DVD can make arrangements to do so by contacting Luis Rodriguez in the Office of Digital Learning (781-338-3247).
  • Written comments from the public were solicited through the Department's website. All written public comments have been compiled and included with this briefing book (see enclosures).
  • The Department conducted an interview with members of the founding group and proposed board of trustees that focused on the concerns and questions raised in the panel review and public hearing. The interview has been summarized and included with this briefing book (see enclosures).
  • Department staff prepared a comprehensive, criteria-based summary of the primary strengths and weaknesses of the application. The final application review has been summarized and included with this briefing book (see enclosures).

Application from the Greenfield Public Schools

The Department received an application from Greenfield on April 22, 2013 to establish a new CMVS beginning in the 2013-2014 school year. The full application can be accessed on the Department's website at Virtual Schools Application Process webpage. Greenfield proposes to operate a CMVS for grades K-12 with a maximum enrollment of 1,250 students.

Proposed School NameLocationOpening YearGradesProposed Maximum Enrollment
Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual SchoolGreenfield2013-2014K-121250

MAVA has been operating as a virtual innovation school for three academic years since opening in the fall of 2010. Following is a brief summary of the academic performance of the existing Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield:

YearSubjectCPISGP
MAVAStateMAVAState
2011ELA - All Grades81.387.226.550
Math - All Grades60.279.718.0
2012ELA - All Grades82.986.729.050
Math - All Grades63.179.925.0

After a thorough review of the application, the review team rated the overall application as "weak." See the enclosed Summary of Final Application Review for more details.

Summary of Recommendation

My recommendation to award a certificate is consistent with the requirements of section 6 of the Act, in which the Legislature intentionally set a unique bar for the award of an initial certificate to Greenfield. In doing so, the Legislature acknowledged Greenfield's pioneering role in establishing a virtual innovation school and expressed its intent to give Greenfield a fair opportunity to adjust to the extensive requirements of the new statute. Allowing the school to transition to this new status also minimizes the disruption for currently enrolled students. When the certificate comes up for renewal, we will hold the school accountable to high standards, but fairness dictates that they be given the opportunity to succeed.

To assist the school in meeting those high standards, I am recommending that several conditions be placed on its operating certificate, with each of these items subject to the review and approval of the Department:

  • Submit bylaws no later than July 15, 2013.
  • Submit a draft contract with K12 Inc. no later than August 1, 2013, to the Department for review and approval.
  • Establish prior to opening and operate a program of special education in a manner consistent with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations. The school will demonstrate that it has met this condition through, at a minimum, an inspection visit conducted by the Department.
  • Establish prior to opening and operate a program for English language learners, including recruiting such students and enrolling applicants, in a manner consistent with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations. The school will demonstrate that it has met this condition through, at a minimum, an inspection visit conducted by the Department.
  • No later than December 1, 2013, submit a CMVS annual goals plan. The plan must set specific measurable goals for student achievement and college and career readiness that shall include but not be limited to the Department's Progress and Performance Index (PPI). The Department will review and approve the plan, assess the school's annual progress towards meeting these goals, and report progress to the Board each year.
  • No later than September 1, 2014, complete the alignment of its curriculum to the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks.

In addition to these conditions, I want to highlight some terms of the certificate that vary from the application submitted to the Department. I am recommending the following terms of the certificate; the full version of the terms is enclosed.

  • The applicant requested a 5-year certificate. I am recommending that certificate be granted for 3 years (July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2016). The school's board of trustees will need to reapply to renew the school's certificate prior to the end of this 3-year period.
  • The applicant requested a per pupil tuition rate of $7,655 to $8,518. The terms stipulate a per pupil tuition rate of $6,700, with $75 per pupil retained by the Department for administration of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts virtual schools program as provided for by the authorizing statute. The cost of special education services will be calculated in accordance with 603 CMR 10.07(3), and shall be added to the per pupil tuition amount unless such services are provided in kind by the sending district.
  • High school enrollment (grades 9-12) will be limited to 250 total students for the 2013-2014 school year.
  • High school students (grades 9-12) must be offered courses sufficient to meet MassCore requirements.

A draft motion for your consideration is attached to this memo. The motion provides for granting a certificate to the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School provided it complies with the terms and makes progress in meeting the conditions I have attached herein.

Future Virtual School Activity

Looking forward, in October 2013, the Department's Office of Digital Learning will post a RFP for school committees and/or educational collaboratives interested in opening a CMVS for school year 2014-2015. Applicants interested in applying are required to submit a letter of intent and an accompanying information sheet to the Department no later than August 16, 2013. The letter of intent may not exceed two pages. The Department will consider full applications from applicants that have submitted the letter of intent by the August deadline. The Department anticipates bringing recommendations for additional Commonwealth of Massachusetts virtual schools to the Board for review and a vote in February 2014.

In addition to the next RFP, the Department plans to bring draft regulations to the Board in the Fall of 2013 so regulations can be finalized before additional certificates are granted. The Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School will also be subject to these regulations.

Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson, Senior Associate Commissioner Bob Bickerton, and Luis Rodriguez, Director of our Office of Digital Learning, will be present at the Board meeting on June 25th to answer any questions you may have.

Enclosures:

Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Chapter 379 of the Acts of 2012
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Greenfield Public Schools CMVS Application
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Executive Summary
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Proposed Board of Trustees
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
List of Reviewers
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Summary of Final Application Review
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Interview Summary
 
Summary of Public Comments
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Terms of the Certificate
 
Motion


Last Updated: June 24, 2013
E-mail this page| Print View| Print Pdf  
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Search·Public Records Requests · A-Z Site Index · Policies · Site Info · Contact ESE