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Hadley trustee airs role in Chinese school project, says there was 'no conspiracy' going on

The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley

JERREY ROBERTS The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley Purchase photo reprints »

Rosalie Porter took a few minutes at a trustees meeting to respond to parent concerns following news that she and Richard Alcorn, the director of the Hadley school, along with Anne Watt of Cambridge, had submitted a prospectus to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to open a Chinese immersion school that would serve the Boston area.

Porter, a language educator from Amherst and a former administrator in the Newton school system, said her involvement was limited and simply involved writing a letter of support that was included in the prospectus.

“This was my involvement,” Porter said. “Had I thought of it? Should I have made a statement to the board? It never occurred to me.”

Porter said she would have cleared up her involvement at an earlier trustees meeting, but family medical issues prevented her from attending meetings on Aug. 29 and Sept. 5. She expressed pride that educators to the east want to emulate the Hadley school’s successful model, but distanced herself from specifics of the project.

“I will tell you, it’s their project,” Porter said. “If they get approval, fine. If they don’t get approval, it’s still their problem. Not mine. I wanted to just make that clear to the parents who wrote that letter.”

Alcorn and the rest of the trustees did not discuss the matter in open session at Sunday’s meeting, though the board did unanimously call for a closed-door meeting to “hear a charge or complaint regarding a staff member and a board member.”

Chairwoman Hsiu-Jung “Mindy” Chang did not say who were the subjects of the complaint. However, trustees earlier this month called for a special meeting after an article in the Gazette detailed Alcorn’s relationship with the proposed school and sparked concern among board members about communication and how Alcorn was spending his time.

That meeting also called for a closed meeting to discuss “concerns about the Gazette article on Aug. 30, regarding leaders of PVCICS seeking to open similar school near Boston.” The Gazette objected to that executive session, and trustees opted not to hold it.

Chang said during a meeting recess Sunday that the board opted to be more specific about why it was entering executive session this time around. The board did not reconvene after the executive session and no action was to be taken, Chang said.

At a Sept. 5 meeting, Alcorn told trustees he was just consulting on the Cambridge initiative and that the filing was meant to put political pressure on the Cambridge school district. He also told trustees he would end his involvement in the project.

School expansion

On a separate note Sunday, Chang sought to quell rumors among some parents that the board did not support the school’s planned expansion into the high school grades. In February, the state agreed to allow the charter school to expand to 12th grade; the school currently enrolls children from kindergarten through ninth grade.

“I’m positive, as chairwoman of this board, our board is 100 percent behind high school,” Chang said. “Again, I don’t know where the misunderstanding came from ... we fought for high school. And we are going to have high school.”

A parent in the audience, Paula Quinn, said she started the rumors after attending a trustees meeting in June at which she said board member David Braverman questioned why the school was pursuing high school. “That jolted me,” Quinn said. “I wrote the quote down because I was shocked.”

Chang said the board asked many questions at that June meeting related to the school’s expansion as part of a much larger conversation. She said members did not want to leave the perception that they were against high school, especially given that the school is already investing and planning on such a move.

Later in the meeting, Alcorn updated trustees on financing plans for the school’s $10.6 million expansion of its 317 Russell St. property. He expects to hear news as soon as next week about whether the school will secure a low-interest loan. He told trustees he would give a detailed presentation about the project at their October board meeting.

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