GREENFIELD — Director of Accountability Dr. Sarah Jordan is pleased to announce that the Greater Commonwealth Virtual School has been assisting public schools across the Commonwealth over the past year in implementing virtual options for students in need.
During the 2020–2021 school year, the Massachusetts Department of Education gave individual school districts the option to create their own virtual education model for families that still needed a virtual option after COVID-19 restrictions ended and schools returned to full-time in-person learning. The model, known as a Single District Virtual School (SDVS), was open to all districts in the state.
A SDVS is only permitted to enroll students who live in the single school district that would be operating the virtual option. The SDVS would be separate and distinct from the two standalone certified virtual schools in the state (of which GCVS is one), and would be locally created and operated, overseen by the local school committee. The model would allow districts the opportunity to continue to educate students virtually, regardless of the reason a family might have for needing virtual instruction.
Over the course of this year, GCVS representatives have been meeting regularly with SDVS districts, including those in Attleboro, Brockton, Chelsea, Peabody, Pittsfield, Springfield and Westfield.
“One of the main things we try to get across when meeting with these schools is that we are not in competition with each other,” Director Jordan said. “We are here to assist these districts in navigating the waters of the virtual school model, bringing our expertise to the table and offering unique insight and guidance. It’s all been very collaborative.”
The Department of Education has already indicated that the SDVS option will continue again next year.
“The state has become very aware of students in need of the virtual learning environment,” Director Jordan said. “It’s all about keeping kids connected and supported, and if there is one thing the pandemic taught us, it is that kids learn in a variety of ways and need a variety of settings to best meet their needs. There have always been reasons why students might learn better outside of a traditional classroom, and bullying has always been one people think of, but there are a variety of medical reasons that are now being discussed as well. It is very important that all of these reasons are brought to the forefront.”
GCVS has showcased best practices for virtual instruction during the year while working with SDVS districts, and has worked to identify what these districts do best and how they can offer the best virtual model possible to their students. One such district has been the Peabody Public Schools, which surveyed families last year and saw that there was broad enough interest to pursue the SDVS model.
Since launching the SDVS option, Peabody has not only been seeing success by way of student education, but the district has been active in the meetings between SDVS districts and has embraced the collaborative effort.
“We have found that the demographic background of our virtual students matches that of our regular, in-person schools. Not only that, more than a third of the students who are educated virtually are on the honor roll,” said Dr. Chris Lord, Peabody Public Schools Executive Director of Remote Learning and External Partnerships. “The pandemic certainly kick-started something that would’ve taken about 20 years to get off the ground. It accelerated the attention paid to the virtual model, and I think we are seeing its impact and importance when you look at how many families decided to stay virtual when schools went back to full-time in-person learning, and how well these students have taken to it.”
Director Lord said the collaboration with GCVS has been invaluable during the year.
“GCVS has been so generous with their time to assist the SDVS schools, and we are proud to share in their passion for making virtual education work,” he said. “GCVS was so brave and so ahead of its time in so many ways to launch their virtual model years ago, and we are grateful for their support.”
Director Lord said Peabody was also fortunate to have so many teachers who embraced the virtual model.
“We have some real rock star educators. The virtual environment works for them as much as it does for our students,” he said. “We have seen firsthand how they are getting to know their kids in different ways, and it has given them a unique approach to teaching. The district is seeing firsthand the value of the virtual model.”
The Peabody Public schools has more than two dozen students pre-enrolled in the SDVS option for next school year, and Director Lord said he looks forward to continuing to work alongside GCVS to best meet the needs of the district’s students.
Jim Flanagan is a strategic consultant with an emphasis on education who has been regularly involved in the meetings between SDVS schools. He has been impressed with the honest and open discussions of the group, as well as GCVS’ role in helping facilitate the progress the group has made.
“We cover so many things that are similar to what you would find in such a meeting for in-person learning, like professional development opportunities, enrollment strategies, student engagement, special education, social-emotional learning, student well-being and more,” he said. “Being able to have a school like GCVS in the discussion, sharing their history and experience in virtual education, has been a huge benefit. As with the start of any such program, some things have worked and some things haven’t, but we all have a common goal and are working toward it.”
Flanagan said that in education, people are often reminded that students have their own individual needs and every student matters.
“Even if it’s only 1 or 2% of students who need a particular learning model, that’s a very significant number,” he said. “It is important to keep track of the number of families taking advantage of the virtual model, and evaluate their performance, so we can ensure this model is sustained long-term for those students who need it. GCVS leads the way in this field, which is why it is so important to have them at the table.”
Director Jordan said that GCVS will continue to assist Single District Virtual School districts for as long as the option is available.
“Everyone at the Greater Commonwealth Virtual School believes in what virtual education is and what it means to families who rely on it,” she said. “This collaboration has been a perfect example of how in education we are all in it together, and we can all learn and grow together.”
For more information about the Single District Virtual School option in Massachusetts, click here.
The Greater Commonwealth Virtual School is a public school of choice serving K-12 students from across all of Massachusetts. GCVS supplements the educational programs offered by traditional school districts to provide unique programs that address the needs of students who learn better in non-traditional educational environments. Under the Massachusetts School Choice program, GCVS offers students an alternative way to succeed academically and successfully prepare for life beyond K-12 education, through both virtual classroom-based programs and personalized asynchronous programs.