BY MICHAEL WALTON
TRAVERSE CITY — Six Traverse City Area Public Schools administrators traveled to China the day after local voters rejected a $100 million bond proposal, a trip that's expected to cost taxpayers roughly $7,000.
Those attending conferences and meeting with Chinese education officials include TCAPS Superintendent Steve Cousins; Associate Superintendent Jayne Mohr; West and Central high school principals Joe Tibaldi and Rick Vandermolen; Katie Bonne, International School at Bertha Vos director; and district Communications Director Alison Arnold.
They left for Beijing Nov. 7 as part of the College Board's 2012 Chinese Bridge Delegation, said Paul Soma, the district's chief financial officer. The TCAPS contingent is scheduled to return Thursday evening.
TCAPS delegates hope to develop relationships with Chinese schools and educators that could lead to sister-school partnerships, large student exchanges and Chinese cultural programming at TCAPS, Soma said. Such developments would improve the global awareness and competency of the district's students.
"We don't live in a world of, 'you grow up in Traverse City and stay there'," Soma said.
Most of the district money spent on the trip went to getting TCAPS administrators to and from Chicago, their international flight hub, Soma said. Some of it also went to conference fees and costs.
China's Hanban Institute covered roughly 70 percent of the trip's bill, including international airfare to Beijing, lodging, group meals and travel inside the host nation.
The Hanban Institute, a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, provides Chinese language and cultural resources to educators across the world, the institute's website states.
TCAPS' International School already has a sister school in China: Zhongguancun No. 4 Primary School, located in Beijing. International School students can use tools like Skype to communicate with youths in Beijing and learn about their culture, Soma said.
TCAPS board President Kelly Hall said the district is trying to develop a Chinese exchange program that would involve up to 100 students.
Chinese officials visited TCAPS schools in February, and about 30 Chinese students are scheduled to enroll in the district and live with local families this January, Hall said.
TCAPS administrators in China this week should build upon that foundation by networking with Chinese school officials, she said.
"It's my hope they come back with some solid exchange agreements we can start to implement," Hall said.
Bonne went as one of TCAPS delegates because of the International School's sister-school partnership. Cousins, Mohr and the high school principals participated because they are some of the district's highest-ranking officials, an important distinction in Chinese culture, Soma said.
"It shows them we are serious about this relationship," he said. "We wouldn't be well-received if we sent over the CFO."
TCAPS sent Arnold as a participant because, as the district's communications director, most subsequent interaction with Chinese officials will occur through her, Soma said.
More than 3,000 American educators have participated in the Bridge Delegation program since 2006, according to a program handbook.
TCAPS district voters on Nov. 6 swamped a district millage request that asked for $100 million to renovate, rebuild and equip several school buildings.