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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:
February 14, 2014

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In August 2013, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) received six Letters of Intent for new Commonwealth of Massachusetts virtual schools (CMVS). In November, we received a single application, which was submitted by The Education Cooperative (TEC).

bmitted by TEC addresses the elements specified in the virtual schools statute, the application has some areas that need further development. As explained below, I am recommending that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) grant a certificate to the board of trustees of the TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School (TECCA), but I am also recommending that the Board impose on the certificate a number of conditions related to areas where improvement is needed.

TEC proposes to operate a CMVS for grades K-12 with a maximum enrollment of 6000 students. The executive summary is enclosed. The full application can be accessed on the Department's website at Virtual Schools Application Process webpage.

Proposed School NameLocationOpening YearGradesProposed Maximum Enrollment
TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School (TECCA)Dedham2014-2015K-12 6000

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 external reviewers (see enclosures). 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 subsequent Department interview with the applicant group.
  • A public hearing was held at the Department on December 16, 2013. Board members Maura Banta and David Roach conducted the hearing. Written comments from the public were solicited through the Department's website. All written 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).
  • Department staff previewed the Connexus® Learning Management System (LMS). Features observed included those related to the organization of instructional content; collaborative learning; and assessing, tracking, and reporting student and organizational goals. No significant concerns were noted.

Summary of Recommendation

I recommend that the Board award a certificate to the board of trustees of the TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School (TECCA). To assist the school in meeting our 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. These conditions are:

  • To submit for the Commissioner's approval a list of additional proposed board members of TECCA who possess the needed skills and expertise to oversee the CMVS, with a minimum of 5 total board members, and identifying the board chair, no later than March 14, 2014;
  • To request a written opinion from the State Ethics Commission for all appointed and proposed trustees who also hold a position, whether paid or unpaid, with The Education Cooperative or its member school districts and, upon receipt, provide a copy of that opinion to the Department. For appointed trustees, that opinion must be requested no later than the close of business on March 14, 2014;
  • To submit bylaws for review and approval no later than March 14, 2014;
  • To submit a draft contract with Connections Academy for review and approval no later than April 1, 2014;
  • To submit a draft enrollment policy, procedure, and application for review and approval no later than April 1, 2014, and no students shall be admitted until the Commissioner has approved the enrollment policy, procedure, and application;
  • To establish, prior to opening, and to operate a program of special education in a manner consistent with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations;
  • To establish, prior to opening, and to 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;
  • To submit, no later than August 1, 2014, annual goals that are specific and measurable for student achievement and college and career readiness including, but not limited to the Department's Progress and Performance Index (PPI).
  • To complete the alignment of the virtual school's curriculum to the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks, no later than September 1, 2015; and
  • To comply with the Department's new regulations related to virtual schools.

In addition to these conditions, I recommend that some terms of the certificate vary from the application submitted to the Department. The variations are summarized below; the full version of the terms is enclosed.

  • The applicant requested a 5-year certificate. I recommend that the Board grant the certificate for 3 years, from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2017. The school's board of trustees will need to apply to renew the school's certificate prior to the end of this 3-year period. I make this recommendation because the CMVS initiative is still very new, and we want to ensure that virtual schools provide high quality programs and that student data shows their programs are academically successful.

  • The applicant requested a maximum student enrollment of 6,000. I recommend that the Board set the school's maximum enrollment at 2,000 students, with enrollment limited to 1,000 and 1,500 students respectively during the first two years of operation. Because the virtual schools statute caps virtual school enrollment at 2 per cent of the total number of students attending public schools in the Commonwealth, it would be unwise to allow a single school to enroll such a large number of students. The virtual schools statute permits up to ten Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual Schools to operate in the Commonwealth at any time; three virtual schools are allowed to operate during the 2013-2016 school years; three additional certificates will be available from 2016-2019; and four additional certificates will be available starting in 2020.

  • The applicant requested a per pupil tuition rate of $7,000. As indicated in the attached terms, I recommend that the Board 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. This recommendation aligns with the per pupil tuition rate the Board granted to the virtual school in Greenfield. The Department will continue to assess the adequacy of the per pupil funding required to ensure high quality virtual schools. The cost of special education services will be calculated in accordance with 603 CMR 10.07(3) and added to the per pupil tuition amount unless such services are provided in kind by the sending district.

  • The CMVS may offer individual courses and charge districts or schools for those courses, provided the virtual school reaches an agreement with the district or school. In order to preserve the autonomy of the CMVS while at the same time motivating collaboratives and districts to apply for certificates, the virtual school may offer full time and individual courses to districts that are members of The Education Cooperative at a discount of no more than 50% of what other districts or schools are charged.

A motion for your consideration is attached to this memo. The motion provides for granting a certificate to the Massachusetts TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School provided it complies with the terms and conditions of its certificate.

Future Virtual School Activity

Looking forward, later this year, the Department's Office of Digital Learning will post a Request for Proposals for school committees and educational collaboratives interested in opening a CMVS for school year 2015-2016. The Department anticipates bringing recommendations for additional Commonwealth of Massachusetts virtual schools to the Board for review and a vote in February 2015.

Associate Commissioner Cliff Chuang and Luis Rodriguez, Director of our Office of Digital Learning, will be present at the Board meeting on February 25th to answer any questions you may have.

Enclosures:

Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Terms of the Certificate
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Summary of Application Review
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Executive Summary
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
List of Application Reviewers
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Interview Summary
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Summary of Public Comments
 
Motion


Last Updated: February 21, 2014
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