Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 24, 2013

TCAPS board approves Chinese exchange program

BY ANNE STANTON astanton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Traverse City Area Public Schools board unanimously approved a plan to enroll up to 200 Chinese high school students — a move that will bring in millions of dollars of tuition money and diversify the student body.

But board members advised starting slowly.

“Let’s do it carefully, slowly and well, and grow it over time,” said board member Marjorie Rich.

The board approved a memorandum of understanding Monday, which clears the way for a tentatively planned Oct. 16 signing with officials from the Weiming Education Group, one of China’s largest private schools.

The school caters to Chinese parents who want an American education, in part to increase their children’s English proficiency. They also prefer the greater emphasis in problem-solving and innovation, said Superintendent Stephen Cousins before the meeting.

“They may be doing business with Americans, and they have a secondary motivation of wanting to get into American colleges,” he said.

Cousins didn’t know whether TCAPS students will attend Weiming.

“We haven’t entered the conversation,” he said.

Cousins told the board he didn’t want to accept more than 70 Weiming students next school year. The specific number will depend on how many host families step forward.

“Thirty to fifty is a manageable number for the first year,” he said.

Weiming will pay $10,000 in tuition for each student. The state will pay an additional $7,000 for students in their junior year. But even if the state pays nothing in the future, the school will still net about $5,000 per student, after expenses — money that can be flexibly used to invest in the district, Cousins said.

Board member Julie Puckett said the exchange will bring the world to Traverse City for students who don’t travel.

“It gives them a bigger view. The world is not just this little bubble we live in,” she said.

Cousins predicted the district’s two high schools will double the number of Northwestern Michigan College courses taught on campus.

Two people spoke against the plan, including Renee Gardner, a math and special education teacher at Traverse City Central High School.

She said the Weiming plan was discussed at a board level on Sept. 9 — the first she heard of it — and the board was already voting on it.

“I think there’s going to be a huge impact at school, and I’m not sure teachers had a voice on it. And I’m really concerned about that,” she said.

Traci Lambert, a parent with two children at TCAPS, feared the program would take focus and resources away from TCAPS students.

She also echoed Gardner’s concerns.

“The teachers will have to embrace these students,” she said. “What kind of training have you given them ahead of time? What type of planning?”

Board member Scott Hardy acknowledged the challenge to assimilate students in the classroom. These are longer-term students, not guests for three weeks, he said, referencing the visit of 55 Chinese students last year from the Dalian University of Technology high school.

Cousins said he’d consult with Associate Superintendent Jayne Mohr, but assumed the school would do some training to ensure that students receive a rigorous, Americanized curriculum.

“That’s the whole point of it,” he said.

The exchange concept will be essentially piloted this year with as many as 13 students from Dalian, Cousins said.

Board members said the issue was well publicized in the newspaper and discussed at length at the committee level. A Chinese student exchange, in general, has long been discussed.

The Global Initiatives Action Team spearheaded most of the push, and it’s co-chaired by the two high school principals, Cousins added.