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Twice denied by state, Chinese charter takes another swing at expansion

  • Chia-Wen Huang, a Chinese teacher at the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, gets her room ready for school in 2016. The school has reapplied to the state for the third time in three years seeking permission to expand. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



@dustyc123
Friday, August 10, 2018

HADLEY — The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School has yet again requested that the state’s education board grant the school permission to expand.

The charter school submitted an expansion request in 2016 that was recommended favorably by then-Commissioner Mitchell Chester, but the board denied the request in a 7-2 vote.

Alison Bagg, director of the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign, explained in a March 2017 letter that the school should delay submitting another expansion request until it addressed several of the education board’s concerns. But the school filed a similar request, and was again denied this spring.

“You’ve got to hear this board,” Chairman Paul Sagan said after the board chose not to take action on the school’s expansion request this March. “We like your school. We like the educational opportunities you provide. But we’re not persuaded that doubling capacity works for the system.”

In its latest request, the charter school is asking the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to allow an increase in maximum enrollment from 584 students to 952. The school’s previous requests had asked for a maximum enrollment of 1,036.

“The PVCICS Board of Trustees wishes to make this change to satisfy persistent unmet demand for Kindergarten seats, expand opportunity and choice for urban, suburban and rural students to attend desegregated/integrated public schools, and increase the integration of staffing in public education,” the expansion request reads.

A letter on Aug. 1 from Executive Director Richard Alcorn to the education board states that the school has received 69 applications for the 44 additional kindergarten seats requested in the latest application, which would expand kindergarten from two to four classrooms.

“Two cohorts are being added both to meet demand and because our proven elementary school immersion model is built around having students at a given grade level swap rooms as they move between English and Chinese classrooms,” the letter says. “Maintaining this model allows for the best education of the students, is efficient from a staffing standpoint and is the most fiscally responsible approach.”

Alcorn’s letter states that the education department told the school last year that there wasn’t sufficient demand for the requested expansion. The charter school asked the education department to help negotiate a number, but instead the department instructed the school to reapply, Alcorn wrote.

“We still do not understand how 69 wait-listed Kindergarten students is insufficient to fill 44 additional Kindergarten seats. At this time, we need a clearer understanding of the BESE’s objections to our expansion,” the letter reads. “PVCICS would be glad to work with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to make adjustments needed to obtain approval for this request, including modifying our region of service.”

In her letter to the school in March 2017, Bagg said that before reapplying, the Chinese Immersion Charter School should address concerns that it had not yet reached its maximum enrollment, had not demonstrated sufficient waitlist demand, was not enrolling students comparable to sending districts, and had “higher rates of attrition of students with disabilities than other schools within its charter region.”

Alcorn has called claims that the school doesn’t support high-needs student “false assertions,” and has argued to the education board that the school has a very diverse student body and teaching staff in a state where schools are increasingly segregated.

The school is asking the education board to approve its request or offer guidance at its next scheduled meeting. The board has a special meeting scheduled for Sept. 17, and a regular meeting for Sept. 18.

No agenda is yet available online for those meetings.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.