Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rural Maine public school hopes to attract tuition-paying Chinese students

Facing diminishing enrollment numbers and revenue, one rural Maine school is turning to an unlikely place for more students: China. While Millinocket, Maine, is a hour's drive from the nearest mall, the town's schools superintendent Kenneth Smith "so certain that Chinese students will eventually arrive by the dozen — paying $27,000 a year in tuition, room and board — that he is scouting vacant properties to convert to dormitories," Abby Goodnough of The New York Times reports. Smith is spending this week in China pitching Stearns High School to school officials, parents and students in Beijing, Shanghai and two other cities.

"We are going full-bore," Smith said. "You’ve got to move if you’ve got something you believe is the right thing to do." Smith has also "hired a consultant to help him make connections in China, lobbied Millinocket’s elected officials and business owners to embrace the plan and even directed the school’s cafeteria workers to add Chinese food to the menu," Goodnough writes. The move to court Chinese tuition-paying students is unprecedented in public schools, even as they scramble for new revenue sources, Goodnough reports.

Smith still faces at least one major hurdle as the State Department currently allows foreign students to attend public U.S. high schools for only one year. Smith, who says the rule is unfair because foreign students can attend private high schools for four years, "is pressing Maine’s Congressional delegation to seek a change, but in the meantime, he intends to recruit a handful of Chinese students to attend Stearns next year," Goodnough writes.

Why would Chinese parents spend $27,000 to send their children to rural Millinocket? "We’re a community full of assets," Smith said "There’s the beauty, No. 1, and the fresh air. And the roads are good." English teacher Terry Given added, "Why not? We won’t know until we get the opportunity to know them and give them the opportunity to know us. There’s something to be said for putting ourselves out there to see if we can be the prize that’s claimed." (Read more)

When the Bangor Daily News first reported the Stearns High School plan in September, Smith voiced big hopes for the program. "We will probably see 100 [students], and if everything falls into place, we could see 200," Smith told Nick Sambides Jr. of the Daily News. "Certainly by three years we will have 300. We hope to have dormitories. Certainly community members will be taking kids in, but I see no reason why we can’t do all of the accommodations." (Read more)

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