Monday, February 21, 2011


Congressman Richie Neal flanked by PVCIC Executive Director Rich Alcorn and his wife Principal Kathy Wang. Kira center front (black t-shirt)

So after almost four years my 9-year-old daughter Kira said her goodbyes last Friday to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, originally founded in Amherst almost four years ago and now located in Hadley, as she will transfer back to Crocker Farm Elementary School only a half-mile from our home.

Today Kira left for her homeland with her mother for a month. Since this week is vacation week she will be missing three weeks of school. Apparently Charter Schools have a harder time granting "extended leaves" or "alternative education opportunities" than their public school counterparts.

After 5 days of school absence Kira would have been considered "absent without leave" and summarily unenrolled from the Charter School. My education oriented Ph.D wife, naturally, plans to hire a private, native Chinese tutor (A Grad Student from an elite University) the entire time Kira is in her homeland to keep up with her, you know, Chinese--although it's hard not to when you will need it every day simply to get around.

We had also assumed Kira (currently an A student) could keep up with homework assignments via email and Skype. But according to Barry Barnett, Coordinator of Federal Programs for the DOE Charter School Office in an email to Principal Kathy Wang:

"When the child leaves for a period of time greater than your enrollment policy allows s/he is disenrolled from your charter school." Ouch!

He then goes on to (sort of) explain, "Only school committees can approve home schooling, charter schools cannot. If, aside from home schooling the parent wants to try to obtain permission for any other form of ongoing education for their child, whatever that might be, they would need to pursue that with the school committee of the town in which they reside. The parent may also wish to consult with an attorney in this matter."

Of course what I then considered a simple matter easily accomplished--going before the venerable Amherst School Committee for permission (although I always get a tad nervous when a high ranking state official suggests I may also want to "consult with an attorney") --quickly became a classic Catch 22.

The Amherst School Committee could approve--and I'm sure would have--Kira's three week absence so that she would not be considered according to state law AWOL, resulting in her parents arrest, however she would still be "disenrolled" from the Charter School.

Charter Schools are indeed less regulated than their tradition public school counterparts and as result that usually works for the betterment of the kids.

This case, however, is an exception.


Anonymous said...

I guess they're not perfect now are they?

LarryK4 said...

I never said they were, now did I?

Anonymous said...

well, you could always wait until summer to take her out of school for a month. I mean, yeah, mom's going now so there's a trip now, but won't there be other chances for trips? I guess it comes down to which you value more, a month in the (home)country this year, or continuing in the Charter school that you have trumpeted in here so often.

LarryK4 said...

Hey Tom,
Yeah, there will be lots of opportunity for future trips (this one is the 10th for my wife and 2nd or 3nd for Kira with those previous ones having occurred in the summer.

I guess the point is Kira would not --in an education sense-- miss a beat(and Chinese is rather rhythmic) by going to her motherland during the school year.

And if Amherst Public Schools can easily handle/condone that, why not PVCIC?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, seems unfair that a parent who wants to do something that's against their rules doesn't automatically get special treatment.

LarryK4 said...

Except in traditional public schools--and Charter Schools ARE public schools--the request would not be considered "special treatment."

And in this particular Happy Valley (because of Umass, with its magnificent multi-cultural enrollment--especially at Grad level) not even remotely a unique request.

Anonymous said...

Um, I want to take my kid for a month long ski trip. I think that's valuable. Shouldn't I be allowed to do that? Or how about a two month trip to Europe Sounds educational to me. In other words, shouldn't I be able to do anything I want? The answer is no. The school decided what constitutes being an enrolled student and their decision didn't include because the parent thinks the time out of school is just as valuable. Sheesh!

LarryK4 said...

Sure, Cowardly Anon Nitwits should be able to do whatever they want because they are, after all, Cowardly Anon Nitwits.

PVCIC is a CHINESE language/culture immersion school; my daughter was born in CHINA.

Thus, you can't get any better immersion than actually being in China--especially where Mandarin dominates.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear she cant continue at PVCIC. I am sure your family will enjoy Crocker Farm and Mr. Morris' leadership there.

LarryK4 said...

Thanks. We already did, as Kira went to pre-school there for a couple years just prior to PVCIC (although under a different Principal.)

Kira toured the school again with Mr. Morris last week and seemed to like it a lot--especially the playground and library.

Anonymous said...

CF: Great teachers. Warm, supportive environment. Lively population. Your daughter will flourish there, Larry.
I don't think you should have expected different treatment from the charter school. They have their rules. Oh well.
Nice to know public schools - the real ones, the ones who actually take everyone, like special needs kids - can support for your daughter's wonderful journey. (I hope you rethink your support of the charter schools, which suck money from our real public

LarryK4 said...

I didn't expect "different treatment", I expected common sense treatment, which apparently we will get from Crocker Farm.

But it does not, strangely enough, cause me to "rethink my support of charter schools."

In fact, I will be watching closely the new virtual online school Hadley will open this coming September...

Anonymous said...

It's true your kid is going to China but, unfortunately, they did not make the rule with a "except if you are going to China" provision. Maybe they should change the rule. But it seems logical for them to follow their rules until thy get changed. It's not like they made the rule to discriminate against you.

LarryK4 said...

Yes, they should change the "rule".

Anonymous said...

Or you should go to China in the summer.

LarryK4 said...

We probably will.

Anonymous said...

Ironic that Mr. Follow-the-Rules-No-Matter-How-Picayune is complaining about rules.

Adam R Sweet said...

Hey Larry. Adam Sweet here. Aren't you the guy who is always complaining about people who don't follow the rules? Seems kinda hypocritical to me to be complaining about this one.

LarryK4 said...

No, I don't really complain or whine all that much about average folks not "following the rules"--only when it's town officials or people in power.

Since Charter Schools are relatively new in the state of Massachusetts compared to their traditional public school counterparts (dating back to the one-room little red schoolhouses of bygone days) there's nothing wrong with pointing out "rules" that should be adapted.

In fact, I'm fairly sure if the Executive Director or Principal wanted to, they could have discovered a rule allowing just such a leave (since apparently the Amherst School System easily found one) and that would be good for a lot of students as the school continues to grow.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure their advise to you was:


Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

LarryK4 said...

No, actually they pretty much blamed it on the state.

Anonymous said...

good to know the charter schools have rules they have to follow.

guess if you want a real private school education for your child, you'll need to dig into your own pockets.

I believe it's also very difficult for most parents to pull their children out of public schools for vacations as well. Teachers cannot teach twice just for family's convenience.

Now, with that said, you'll be surprised to hear that I think such a trip is far more valuable than 4 weeks in a classroom.

But systems are systems for a reason.

Try looking at Hartsbrook. When I was familiar with the school they had a whole child approach that appreciated the impact of family/travel etc for the child.

of course you'd have to pay tuition

but well worth it.

If I had my preference, I'd say each family is allotted a certain $ amount for education of their children -- i.e. voucher system. ANd many schools would be eligible, private, parochial, public etc.

LarryK4 said...

Well, it's not exactly a vacation as she will be tutored four hours per day, and it's only three weeks of school time.

But yeah, I would be a B-I-G fan of vouchers. That would step up the competition aspect of education a notch or two (although God forbid folks think of education as a business.)

It is a little weird that people in Amherst would pay one of the highest tax rates in Western Massachusetts--where over two thirds of that rate is due to school spending--but send their kids to private schools.

Even weirder when they work in the schools or are on the School Committee.

Anonymous said...

If more and more parents send their kids elsewhere to go to school, eventually it's going to start to show up in our real estate values.

Keeping that in mind, gee, aren't our schools terrific?

LarryK4 said...

Yep. BUT, if you do not plan to sell your house in the near future that also means your assessed value is high, so combine that with the Amherst's exceedingly high tax rate per thousand...

Anonymous said...

Hmm, make sure she comes back. You don't want to get one of those "My lazy husband spends all his time on his blog, rather than getting a job, so I'm moving back to China" emails.

LarryK4 said...

Actually she was born in America, Nitwit.

sue Larry shaffer said...

high taxes

shit for roads

corrupt officials

makes sense to me

-Hairy shafter

Ron Reagan said...


Laughing out loud all the way to Charter school land, where all the kids are smart, all of the teachers know their place, and shut their mouths, and all the parents are smarter.

Yeah, guess the grass isn't so green over there after all.

By the way, Larry, isn't China a communist country? Are you some kind of sympathizer? A commie?

Larry, for christ's sake, tell me you're not a socialist.

I'd dump those damn commies and buy American, Larry. What the hell is wrong with you in the first place, sending your kid to some freakin commie school.

Ron Reagan

Anonymous said...

Don't know where you're getting your info, Larry. If I tried to pull my kid out of public school for three weeks, even if it was to go on an trip I claimed was educational and with tutors that I provided, my kid's teachers would rapidly convert his straight A's into straight F's.

LarryK4 said...

Then you should probably take it up with the principal. In our case the teachers were all for it, and in her new school the principal said it would be no problem.