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Education chief approves Chinese charter school expansion

The Hadley school currently offers classes from kindergarten through ninth grade. The school’s bid to expand its offering up to 12th grade needs approval from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The commissioner is recommending an expansion of the school’s charter to allow it to educate 584 students, up from the current cap of 300 students, and to add grades 9 through 12. The board will consider the commissioner’s recommendations at a meeting Feb. 25-26.

In February 2012, the state board followed Chester’s recommendation by extending the school’s charter for five years for kindergarten through eighth grade and approved adding ninth grade for one year, to allow eighth-grade students to continue at the school.

Richard Alcorn, executive director of the school, said in a statement Friday that the school is pleased with the commissioner’s recommendation. He said it is important for the school to have a high school so that the current students are not forced to leave when they reach higher grades, and that many parents and guardians of current students are eager for their children to continue at the school.

The commissioner has also recommended the approval of charters for four new schools and the expansion of the charters for 11 existing charter schools across Massachusetts. Among the new schools receiving the commissioner’s recommendation is Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School in Springfield, which would serve up to 250 students from Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee.

The Four Rivers Charter School, a Greenfield secondary school that serves the surrounding communities and the Valley, is also likely to expand. The commissioner recommended increasing the maximum enrollment at the school by eight places to 220 students.

In the past, the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School has faced criticism for its governance structure and discipline practices. A student at the school was allegedly kept in a “time-out” room for nearly a full day in 2011, and the Department of Children and Families entered a finding of neglect against the principal, Kathleen Wang, and a teacher.

The DCF finding led to an investigation by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which issued a report criticizing the school for inadequate discipline policies and the board of trustees for lax oversight in December 2011. The department required the school to establish a plan for training staff and trustees as a condition for renewal of its charter in 2012.

The school applied to add a high school last year, but Chester recommended against allowing the school to expand in his initial report, citing concerns over the school’s governance. At the board meeting, he modified his recommendation, urging the board to allow the school to add a ninth grade class.

Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson said that because Wang, the principal, is married to Alcorn, the executive director, it was important for the board of trustees to exercise greater oversight at the school.

The board followed the commissioner’s recommendation, rechartering the school and allowing a ninth grade class on the condition that the school improve the operation of the board of trustees.

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