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Editorial: Meeting helps clear the air on a charter school’s leadership

Richard Alcorn, the director of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, was taken to task Thursday by the school’s Board of Trustees for what appeared to be a secretive attempt to open a second school in the Cambridge area. Board members said they were dismayed they had to find out about the extent of his involvement by reading a Gazette article on the proposal.

The information in that article came from documents Alcorn filed with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Alcorn responded that in submitting a charter school proposal to the state he was simply trying to put “political pressure” on the Cambridge School District to get moving on a Chinese language immersion school in eastern Massachusetts. That is a ludicrous claim, given the detailed nature of the 63-page prospectus he submitted along with trustee Rosalie Porter and Anne Watt, an educator from Cambridge. If it was a “cut and paste” job, as he told the board, that conduct is insulting to the state evaluators and the students he hoped to draw.

But the board didn’t buy his explanation — and we applaud members for that. Trustees told Alcorn they weren’t necessarily opposed to the plan, but to the clandestine way he went about it. He apologized and promised to drop out of the bid to open the second charter school. Porter was not at the meeting.

Alcorn has done good work establishing a thriving and growing immersion language school here in the Valley, which recently won state approval to add high school grades and up to 584 students. There is a lot of work involved in that, including expanding the school building at 317 Russell St., and some parents are rightfully concerned that working to establish a similar program in the eastern part of the state could divert Alcorn’s time and attention to the detriment of the Hadley school. Alcorn, who lives in Amherst, also runs an Easthampton-based business importing Chinese books and other products.

Alcorn promised to improve his communications with the board and we hope that means with the public as well. Parents of his Hadley students weren’t informed of his plans to win a charter for a school in the Boston area either, and Alcorn declined to talk with the Gazette about them.

The charter school is a public school, paid for with taxpayers’ dollars, and Alcorn and the board need to be open about its operations and the actions of its leaders, just as the public schools’ committees and superintendents must be accountable.

In documents he filed with the state, Alcorn notes that the Hadley school is the only extended Chinese language and culture program in New England at a time when such programs are experiencing rapid growth in other parts of the country. He deserves credit for the work he has done in achieving that. It would be a shame for him to undermine his efforts by operating under a cloak of secrecy.

Rosalie Porter, really? The same Rosalie Porter who led the charge to take away public schools' ability to have bilingual education programs is now involved with language-immersion charter schools? So public schools can't offer a needed program but semi-private charter schools can? It just makes it even clearer that charter schools are part of the right's plan to privatize all education.

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