PVCICS not recommended for expansion

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

Staff Writer
Published: 1/23/2019 5:17:51 PM

HADLEY – The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School’s request to expand its enrollment size by nearly 70 percent was not recommend by Jeffrey Riley, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education. The move effectively denied the request unless the school appeals the decision.

In August, the K-12 public charter school asked to increase its maximum enrollment from 584 students to 952.

Riley called the school an “innovative educational option,” in a Jan. 17 letter to the PVCICS board of trustees. He continued, “I cannot, however, recommend an expansion that does not adequately address concerns around the proposed size of the school regarding both the size of a very substantial expansion and enrollment demand.”

Richard Alcorn, executive director of the school, commented in an email to the Gazette saying increased demand prompted the request.

“We applied to expand our enrollment to serve persistent unmet demand for seats at PVCICS,” Alcorn wrote. “We currently have a waitlist of roughly 70 kindergarten applications for the 2018-2019 school year.”

According to state data, the school had 493 students enrolled in the 2017-2018 school year, less than its current cap of 584. Last year, Alcorn told the board there were no wait lists for its sixth-grade and ninth-grade entry points because, generally, it’s easier for students to start in a language immersion program when they are younger.

The recent expansion request is the school’s third attempt to grow in the last few years. In 2016, then-commissioner Mitchell Chester recommended the school’s similar request, but the proposal was later voted down by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The school was told in March of 2017 by Alison Bagg, director of the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign, to not apply for an expansion again until it addressed several of the board’s concerns including that the school had not reached its maximum enrollment and had “higher rates of attrition of students with disabilities than other schools within its charter region.” Nonetheless, PVCICS applied and was denied last spring.

Some other area school district leaders opposed the most recent expansion request. A group of western Massachusetts superintendents – including those in Northampton, Amherst and Easthampton – argued in an opinion piece published in the Gazette that PVCICS underserves economically disadvantaged students.

Alcorn wrote previously in a Gazette opinion piece that the school educates students from more than 30 districts, drawing most from Amherst and Springfield and called the school an “engine of integration for students and public-school staffing in Hampshire County.”

According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education data, 16 percent of the school’s population is considered economically disadvantaged, compared to a statewide average of 32 percent.

In his letter, Riley acknowledged the school could appeal the decision but urged it to instead consider focusing on creating an “alternative” to its most recent request.

When asked if the school would appeal the decision, Alcorn wrote in an email, "The PVCICS Board of Trustees will need to decide if they want to appeal the recommendation of the Commissioner to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. They have done this in the past.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com

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