Greenfield Virtual Academy Proposal In Motion

School officials are busy redesigning a virtual school based in Greenfield, Massachusetts so it complies with a new law requiring stronger state supervision of online schools. The process began after the school committee voted late last month to reverse its own decision to close the school.

The Virtual Academy serves 470 students across the state, and is its first online public school. Susan Hollins is superintendent of Greenfield Public Schools. She says in its first three years the school established its own systems for training teachers remotely and distributing science materials to students. She says these models provide some easy answers in the application for a “new school certificate” — which the state now requires for the school to keep its virtual doors open. But Hollins says trying to fit new parameters is difficult.

“Where we need help is on some of these other issues like um, how do you provide free and reduced lunch which is one of the questions to students from 200 different towns across the state. Does anybody know how to do that?”

Hollins says the certificate would turn the Virtual Academy into an “independent public school.” And that means it has to establish a separate board of trustees — rather than rely on the Greenfield School Committee — and hire different administrators. She says the proposal will be similar to the model used at nearby Franklin County Technical School and Four Rivers Charter School.

“They each have their own full time business managers, full time special ed administrators — you know, you have to have all of the services of a central office.”

Hollins says the school committee has yet to draft a budget. But she says given all the new staff required, the roughtly 5,000 dollars per student the Academy currently receives in school choice funding will probably not be enough.