Leaders of Hadley Chinese immersion charter seek to open similar school near Boston

Last modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

HADLEY — The executive director and a trustee of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School aim to open a second school near Boston, even as the Hadley school expands into the secondary grades.

Richard E. Alcorn, the school’s director, and trustee Rosalie Porter, a language educator, both of Amherst, submitted a prospectus to the state proposing a kindergarten through 12th-grade Chinese Immersion Charter School to serve Brookline, Cambridge, Newton, Waltham, Watertown and Weston. Joining them in the bid is Cambridge educator Anne S. Watt. The application states that the school would be located “probably” in Newton.

According to the prospectus, there is a dearth of Chinese programs in the northeast, and a school near Boston would fill a need.

“At this time, the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School remains the only extended sequence Chinese language and culture program in New England,” according to the documents filed with the state. The Newton-area school would serve as “a regional hub” encompassing a population on the same scale as other successful Chinese immersion programs in the United States and “is modeled on a proven program, the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.”

Reached by the Gazette at the Amherst campus of the Hadley school, Alcorn declined comment, saying he was too busy to be interviewed.

In addition to his role as founding director of the Hadley School, Alcorn runs a business importing and selling English language editions of books and other Chinese products.

Adam Sitze of Amherst, the parent of a student at the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, said Alcorn did not inform parents of the Hadley school’s students of his plans. Sitze said he expects parents to have concerns. “It is reasonable for parents to wonder how he will manage the founding of a new school and the expansion of this one without being stretched too thin,” he said in a telephone interview.

J.C. Considine, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the Alcorn proposal is one of 10 charter school prospectuses submitted by the July 29 deadline. They will be reviewed and the applicants of those showing the most promise will be invited to submit formal proposals, he said. A comprehensive review, including public hearings, will follow. Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester then will recommend finalists to the state board of elementary and secondary education, which will decide in February which ones get the green light.

The Hadley school started in 2007, and received state approval to expand its kindergarten through grade eight program to include secondary school beginning this school year. Its enrollment has increased from 280 to 330 and it now has sixth- through ninth-graders attending classes at a temporary campus in Amherst while children in kindergarten through fifth grade continue to go to the school building at 317 Russell St. in Hadley.

There are plans to expand that building this fall with the intention of adding grades 10 through 12. The state has authorized the school to take up to 584 students.

The prospectus for the new school, a 63-page document that includes a sample curriculum, targets opening in September 2015. The school would ultimately enroll 884 students in kindergarten through Grade 12. Initially, it aims to take 88 children the first year in kindergarten and first grade and add students through grade five over the first five years, up to an enrollment of 264.

In the prospectus, Alcorn, Porter and Watt say that while Chinese language and culture immersion programs have experienced rapid growth nationally, the northeastern part of the United States has not followed suit. Efforts to start a Chinese charter school in Boston were unsuccessful, they wrote, and parents with children in the Cambridge public schools’ Chinese immersion program have expressed frustration and are looking for other options.

Alcorn is a founder of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School where his wife, Kathleen Wong, serves as principal. In addition to running the school, he operates Clippership Distribution in Easthampton, which he co-founded in 1996. According to documents he filed with the state, the company is an importer, distributor and Web retailer of English language editions of Chinese books, traditional Chinese kites and porcelain dinnerware. He also owned Easthampton Woodworks Inc., from 2005 to 2010, a startup manufacturer of flooring, millwork, doors and windows.

He has a master’s degree in management information systems and an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and economics.

Porter, who has an doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts, has held various professional and elective positions related to language teaching, including posts in Washington, D.C., and statewide.

She also served as director of bilingual/English as a second language for the Newton Public School system from 1980 to 1990 and has worked as a consultant to school districts on English immersion programs for non-English-speaking students and has a list of publications on the topic.

She is also chairwoman of the board of directors of ProEnglish, a Virginia organization that promotes English as the official language in the United States and opposes bilingual education in favor of English language immersion programs in public schools.

Watt, who also holds a doctorate in education from UMass, was the founder and senior program director of Primary Source, a center for professional development for teachers and administrators with a global focus, and has taught at UMass Boston, Fitchburg State College and the Lesley College Graduate School of Education, among other colleges.


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