Columnist Charles Bagley: Chinese immersion charter school oversubscribed

Date Published: 
February 19, 2018

As families begin to make decisions about where to send their children to school next year, many will be disappointed with the outcome of the annual lottery for admission to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School (PVCICS) in Hadley.

That disappointment stems from the fact that PVCICS has not been allowed to expand its admissions to allow doubling of the kindergarten class. Applications for the PVCICS kindergarten class for next year have already significantly exceeded the number of students we are currently allowed to serve, as dictated by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

PVCICS is a K-12 public charter school, serving students from all around the Pioneer Valley free of charge. Our school is unique in that it offers students the opportunity to access a world-class education and also benefit from learning Chinese, a federally designated “critical” language. Our school is as popular as it is successful.

Our success comes despite the fact that PVCICS has far less per-pupil funding than some wealthy local districts. State 2016 per-pupil spending in-district data shows PVCICS spent $13,186 per pupil compared to $21,356 for Amherst, $18,308 for Leverett, $18,126 for Pelham and $20,285 for the Amherst/Pelham school district.

Parents come to PVCICS for many reasons, including:


1. PVCICS has produced exemplary academic outcomes. Last year PVCICS scored the highest in western Massachusetts on the “next-generation” MCAS and received national and global praise for our innovative Chinese language and culture program.

The superior educational outcomes benefit all learners, including high-needs students. We are proud to have 70 percent more teachers per student than the state average and a longer school day, effectively delivering 34 additional days of school compared to traditional schools. On paper it appears we have low numbers of students with disabilities and English language learners, but in reality, our numbers reflect our success supporting high-needs students with the additional time and teaching resources.

2. PVCICS is making substantial progress in closing the academic opportunity gap by offering rural and rapidly growing number of urban students access to a type of proven program that has historically been limited to larger and wealthier districts. The Springfield School District is second in the number of students sent to PVCICS. We are providing western Massachusetts students, including underserved students, with the academic accountability, innovative programs and choices promised by the charter school law.

3. PVCICS has greater diversity in programs and staffing than other Massachusetts public schools. On April 4, 2016, the Boston Globe reported that, in a global economy, Massachusetts lags in teaching foreign languages. On Feb. 13, 2017, the Boston Globe published a table showing the student-teacher diversity gap in each Massachusetts school district. Based on the data used in that survey, a significant gap exists for all minorities. The underlying data also shows Asians represent 6.7 percent of Massachusetts public school students but only 1.3 percent of public education staff statewide.

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education can address parental demand, support underserved students, help address the student-teacher diversity gap support, and support efforts to teach federally designated critical languages, including Chinese, by approving our expansion request.

Charles Bagley, of Leverett, is chairman of the board for the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.