Charter uses satellite campus for upper grades
HADLEY — For the next academic year, students in the upper grades at the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School will take the bulk of their classes at a satellite campus in Amherst.
As enrollment grows from 280 to 330, and planning continues to add high-school grade levels, school administrators are temporarily shifting the sixth through ninth grades from the main school at 317 Russell St. to space leased in South Amherst, said Richard Alcorn, the school’s executive director.
The satellite campus will be located at 7 Pomeroy Lane, occupying five storefronts in a commercial building where the school started in 2007, according to the building’s landlord Richard Slobody. Most recently the space had been used by the Amherst Montessori School.
The need for this space is expected for only one year, as an expansion of the existing 30,000 square foot building, with a four-story, 38,000-square-foot addition gets under way.
“The town of Hadley has given us site-plan approval for an addition to the school,” Alcorn said.
If all goes according to plan, work will begin in the fall.
“Our hope is to pour the foundation before winter, then do other work in the spring,” Alcorn said.
Once it is complete, all students from kindergarten through 12th grade will be educated at the Hadley site.
Alcorn said the school is preparing for the high school phase by hiring four new teachers, some of whom will assist in the launching the program.
As part of its expansion to high school, Alcorn said, the school is a candidate to become part of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, which will start in 11th grade and offers a certificate that is recognized internationally.
If authorized, a process that takes two years, the benefits to a student will be that along with his or her diploma the individual will recognized for Chinese speaking skills and knowledge of Chinese culture at universities across the globe.
The main building on Route 9 will continue to be where all students begin their school days, with the upper class students getting their art, music and physical education there first. In fact, the move of some students frees up rooms in the building for dedicated areas for the specialists.
“We have flexibility in the space we didn’t have before,” Alcorn said.
There will also be community time on Wednesdays aimed at making all students will feel part of the same school.
“We want to very much maintain the school community,” Alcorn said.
The school, using a cultural visa program, is doing an exchange with the Taiwanese government. Under this, three experienced teachers from Taiwan will be in Hadley for the full year, Alcorn said. They will act as regular instructors, supplementing the 65 teachers and other staff.
Alcorn said much of the regular work is focused on how to ensure the public education children get, whether in the traditional curriculum or the Chinese immersion program, is top notch.
“Like every school, we are looking at ways to improve the existing program,” Alcorn said, particularly as needs and demands grow with an expanding student body.
One aspect of this is for those who are athletically inclined. The school is applying to join the Massachusetts Intramural Athletic Association, Alcorn said, and will likely work with the Hadley public schools to get students more involvement in sports.
A new playground has been added behind the school, built with money raised by the school’s family association.
For parents, one of the changes this fall will be an online system in which they can place orders for their children’s lunch and milk. And, the school is putting together an automated call system to reach families in emergencies.
Bus services, which had been handled internally, are now being contracted out to Five Star Transportation. Buses will continue to pick up students in the same places, in Greenfield near the Route 2 rotary and in Springfield near the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Each school day runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for kindergarten and first-graders, and until 4:15 p.m. for those in second grade and up. The school year begins with a half-day drop-in date Aug. 26 from 9 a.m. to noon so younger children get acquainted with the school, with the first official day Aug. 28, the last day June 13 and, if five snow days, June 20.