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Will 2nd time be a charm? Chinese charter school in Hadley to reapply to state for expansion

  • Community members of Hadley's Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School visited Malden a year ago to testify for a school expansion before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The expansion was denied in February and the school is now going to reapply. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Community members of Hadley’s Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School visited Malden a year ago to testify for a school expansion before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The expansion was denied in February and the school is now going to reapply. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



@dustyc123
Thursday, August 10, 2017

HADLEY — Officials at the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School are again seeking approval from the state’s education board to increase student enrollment by 452 students.

The announcement comes six months after the school’s last attempt to persuade the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which was unsuccessful despite a positive recommendation from the state’s education commissioner, Mitchell D. Chester, who at the time called the decade-old school an “exemplar” of what the charter-school movement is about.

“Our desire to grow or school is based on the simple fact that more families here in the Pioneer Valley want their children to attend our school,” Richard Alcorn, the school’s executive director, said in a statement announcing the decision. “We want to support our current students, their siblings who have not yet enrolled, as well as new students.”

In a statement provided to the Gazette, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Chairman Paul Sagan said the board’s 7-2 decision in February to deny the school the right to expand was “in large part a response to a concern that the school did not demonstrate to us a demand by students and their families for more capacity at the school.” 

Alcorn said he’s hoping that this fall the school will recruit and build a larger waitlist for kindergarten students, who are the focus of the charter’s expansion plans. He said one of the underlying reasons for reapplying is that school officials believe there is sufficient demand for seats at the charter.

PVCICS is already authorized to have its enrollment increased to 584 students, though this past academic year its enrollment was only 471, meaning there were 113 slots available. Alcorn has said the school’s current facilities can’t support that many additional students, however.

If expansion is approved, the school would be able to increase enrollment to a maximum of 1,036 students, which they said would be implemented over a several-year period.

The proposed increase, Alcorn added, is also tied to the school’s need to finance an expansion. The Chinese Immersion Charter School is near capacity on its Route 9 campus, and doesn’t have the classrooms to offer additional electives or playing fields for students wanting to take part in extracurricular activities and sports. The hope, Alcorn said, is that with an expansion, the school will be able to purchase a new facility to meet those significant needs. 

During February’s board meeting, several members also raised questions about whether the school was a drain on resources to traditional public schools, didn’t enroll enough underserved students or whether special education students were being “counseled out” of the school.

In May, the Gazette spoke with six former parents at the school who said their children’s special needs were inadequately met at the charter, alleging that they were denied needed services, inappropriately disciplined for behaviors related to their disabilities or forced out altogether.

School officials, however, said they closely adhere to all relevant requirements, and categorically denied that any child has been deprived of services, punished for behaviors related to a disability, “counseled” or otherwise pushed out of the school. Alcorn said this time around, the school will be prepared to provide the education board with numbers that challenge those narratives.

“When you start looking at the data, a lot of the things that are being said don’t add up,” Alcorn said. “If you look at the data, you’ll see that we are doing a great job supporting diverse learners.”

A phone call to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was not immediately returned, but Alcorn said the education board usually takes up charter amendments in February or March.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.