Columnist Jeff Palm: Questionable reporting on Chinese charter school

  • Richard Alcorn, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, stands in front of the school in Hadley. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 6/6/2017 7:57:48 PM

When is enough enough? The litany of unfavorable articles and editorials printed by the Gazette would make it seem as if the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School is a pariah among local institutions.

As a parent of two children at the school and having been a member of the PVCICS community for the past nine years, I can say this couldn’t be further from the truth. We are a model of what a Massachusetts charter school should be: a high-quality public school that innovates in the areas of instructional practice, time, resources, and technology ensuring that our students have equitable access to a pathway to success after high school.

Do we have our challenges? Sure. But ours are not dissimilar to most other public institutions in our region. The question needs to be asked: Why single us out?

I sit on the board of a local charitable nonprofit organization that provides funding for professional education advocates who work for local families to get the services to which they and their children are entitled. In this position I have witnessed countless examples of public schools in our region that do not comply with providing required services to children with special needs.

I would suggest that if the Gazette really wants to tackle the issue of compliance for special needs services in public schools, perhaps it should use its investigative resources more broadly and interview the hundreds of families in our region that are being underserved at all schools. This issue is not relegated to just PVCICS — so why print a front page, headline story about only our school?

And when the Gazette decided to use its editorial power to single out PVCICS’ expansion rejection by the Department of Education and publicly agree that we are draining resources for other regional districts, why pick on just us? Why not talk about all of the other charter institutions in the region that are simply following the state’s charter school regulations?

By providing an innovative, language immersive curriculum to anyone who “wins” the enrollment lottery, we are not singling out any family. Does the charter system have failings? Sure, but it’s not exclusive to PVCICS.

And, finally, the Gazette printing an article (“Charter to hold first-ever high school graduation,” June 2) about not being invited to the graduation ceremony? C’mon.

The U.S. Department of State recognizes and advocates for teaching languages critical to the security of our country. Among those languages is Mandarin. (It should be noted that neither Latin, French nor Spanish, the most commonly taught languages in our region’s public schools, are on this list.)

For 10 years, PVCICS has identified the importance of not only learning a critical language but also educating our students about an entirely different way of thinking and learning. Who else in the region is doing this? No one. Why? That’s a great question that parents at other public schools should be asking. Our regional districts have had significantly more than 10 years to do something new and inventive with regard to language learning, yet they have not changed. This lack of forward thinking is significantly more detrimental to the future of our public school systems than a small, public charter school in Hadley.

If you want reasons to single out PVCICS, here are a few: record enrollment growth for a charter school in our region; nationally and internationally recognized teachers and curricula; and, hundreds of students who are becoming bilingual, global citizens right here in western Massachusetts.

But if you must pick out our few shortcomings, please just make sure that you are looking at all public institutions in the region, not just our little jewel of a school in Hadley.

Jeff Palm, of Florence, is the parent of two children at the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.

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