Information session held for parents on virtual school plans

Second session is planned for May 6

WESTFIELD – The first of two interactive zoom information sessions for families on the Virtual K-8 School was presented April 28. The presentation will be available on the district’s website and Facebook page, along with a link to register for a second information session planned for May 6 from 6-7 p.m.

Susan Dargie, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, began by answering the question, “why have a virtual school.” She said the law has allowed districts to have a virtual school option, but it was not one that had been pursued by any school district in the Commonwealth before now. Several districts are currently looking to establish virtual schools, including Springfield, which announced its plans this week.

Dargie said Westfield believes that all students should remain connected to their community, and having a virtual school gives families who wish to keep their children at home an option other than homeschooling or having them attend an outside virtual school. The Virtual K-8 School will be considered a Westfield school, and will have curriculum taught by Westfield Public School teachers that will abide by state frameworks, and will cover math, English, science, and social studies as well as virtual specials.

Director of Assessment and Accountability Denise Ruszala said Westfield is seeking a one-year commitment to the virtual school from families who sign up. The district also expects an adult to be present in the child’s remote environment to provide support for learning, assist with monitoring attendance, and communicate regularly with teachers and staff. Teachers who choose to work in the virtual school will be asked to make a commitment as well, she said.

“This will be a fully functioning school in our district; its own entity,” said Christopher Rogers, director of student interventions. He said the expectations for the school will be consistent with other schools; the school will follow all laws and state regulations and be accountable to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for MCAS testing and attendance.

The school will also follow the same school calendar as the district, with grading and assessments following a trimester calendar for all the grades. He said students will be eligible for extra-curricular activities, both virtual and in person, such as band, chorus and intramural activities. The school day will run from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for all grades.

Chris Tolpa, principal of Franklin Avenue Elementary School said that students will be given some unique choices and opportunities in the school. She said the district learned this year that some students function best in remote environments with the support of parents or other adults. She said there will be some time for specialized learning, and time to explore special interests a child may have.

Salvatore Frieri, principal of Munger Hill Elementary School, said any child with any type of need will be addressed as in a full-service school, with certified special education personnel and occupational, physical and speech therapy offered virtually with the help of the adult in the home. Special education team meetings for Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and 504 plans will be held virtually, and students 14 and up will be invited.

Frieri said English language learners, who make up 5 percent of the district, will also receive services and support from certified ESL teachers. Translation services and bilingual paraprofessionals will also be available to students and parents whose first language is not English.

“Most importantly, breakfast and lunch is provided to all of our students, and will be made available to families in the virtual school for pickup at Westfield Middle School,” said Dargie, adding that families that qualify for free or reduced lunch will be able to get them.

According to state regulations, only Westfield residents may apply to the virtual school. It is open to Westfield students currently enrolled elsewhere. Tolpa said the electronic application will be available following the May 6 information meeting, and will be due at the end of May.

Dargie said the plan at this time is to have one class per grade, with 20 students in each class for kindergarten to second grade, and 25 students per class in grades 3 to 8. If enrollment exceeds the class size, but is not enough for a second class, it will be determined by a lottery system. Approval will be given by June 25.

“Our superintendent is interested in accepting as many students as possible. No application will be denied if there’s a seat,” Dargie said, adding there will be no discrimination with an application, and no consideration of a student’s record.

Opening up the presentation to questions, parents asked about a range of subjects including band, power school, technology, IEP’s, advanced classes, MCAS and the frequency of field trips. Questions and answers may be viewed in the presentation which will be posted at

“This is a new venture for us. We do appreciate your patience; these things are evolving,” Dargie said.

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