December 18, 2013 - While on his recent trip to China, Nov. 17-24, not only did Oxford Schools Superintendent Dr. William Skilling meet with Weiming Education Group (WEG) to discuss the latest plans for the proposed international student housing (see "District lays out conceptual plan for intl. housing" in last week's edition), but he also visited schools and talked curriculum
"I visited four of the Weiming International Schools, two that are fully operational and two that are coming online next year with high school students. I met with the students at Shenzhen and Guangzhou where they have students that are ready to come to the United States starting next year. I did a presentation about our school and talked with their staff and principal and just talked about the merits of coming to Oxford Community Schools."
While visiting two schools in Wuhan, Skilling took a look at Weimings curriculum and discussed their 2+2 program, a program in which WEG students will learn Oxford's curriculum during their freshman and sophomore years at Weiming schools before transferring to Oxford to complete their junior and senior years.
To help with curriculum development, Dr. James Schwarz:, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, OHS Assistant Prinicipal Kurt Nuss and Chunchun Tang, director of International Programs flew to China and met with WEG the week prior Nov. 9-17.
Schwarz said they also did a number of school visits at elementary, middle and high school levels in different cities to get a feel of how Weiming schools are set up, what they physically look like, what programs are like and what a typical student's day is like.
"When we partner with them, we're looking at how we create a program (in) which their students will get a sense of what western teaching techniques and philosophies are like," he said. "We wanted to see what do they already have and what are they already doing to exemplify that and where do we need to work to kind of help hone that a little bit more (in order) to get them ready to potentially come into a classroom here in the (United) States."
"We were also able to educate and promote the great things Oxford Schools and Oxford community has to offer for the kids who want to come and convince them to do so," Nuss added.
Skilling is "impressed with Weiming's efforts to truly Americanize their educational system."
"What they're doing is hiring first language English speakers from the United States primarily, but (they) also have some teachers from South Africa, Australia, (the) United Kingdom and Canada teaching in their International Schools, (so) that students are learning their academics in English versus going to an English class only," he explained. "By taking this approach, they're incorporating automatically western practices to teaching. Number two: the kids are learning the academic language of English in China before they even come to the United States so they'll be much better prepared and seem seamless as they transition from10th grade (in) China to 11th grade in the United States."
Swartz also believes it will be a smoother transition for kids.
"They (WEG) appear quite organized. They, as an organization, have folks who are skilled in and know the American curriculum and culture and they're aware of Common Core," added Schwarz. "They have an (American) knowledge base and people dedicated to working within that database within their organization whereas our prior partnerships didn't have that."
Nuss agreed that "there is a pretty solid base there."
Schwarz said their partnership with Weiming "offers kids a lot of potential opportunity both on the Chinese side of things and on the American side of things."
"I think they are (a) quite reputable organization to be working with and we're pretty fortunate to have this partnership with them," he added. "Certainly it's going to add a lot of benefit to our international program. It's going to go that next step we need to go."
What is the advantage for Oxford students and how does is affect them?
By having international students attend OHS, Schwarz said it "creates a microcosm of the world in our school."
"Oxford has been quite a homogenous community and frankly, for our students that's not reflective of the real world workplace. The real world workplace folks are coming and working in that organization from wherever they're going to be all over the world," he said. "Some are working virtually (through computers), some are working side-by-side, but you have to know how to work with folks from other backgrounds, other nationalities and ethnicities. I think there is a power in that in terms of looking at problems and solutions from different vantage points and different experience bases that our kids wouldn't get otherwise."
Nuss agreed that the exchange of ideas and the diversity of thought that kids can now draw upon is a huge benefit."
"Just from a very quick practical matter of helping with language proficiency - we currently have our Chinese students working with our (American) students teaching Chinese and learning English and vice versa," explained Nuss. "But the big picture has always been creating that global village of the realistic interaction of working through solutions through different view points. That's what the world is."
Who pays the bills for China trips?
"People always want to know why our tax dollars are going to this thing," Skilling said.
But they're not.
"We have a global travel budget," he said. "The funds for the global travel budget does not come from taxpayer dollars, it comes from the money that we earn through the international program. The tuition dollars that we get, that's how we create our travel account for this sort of thing. We really try to avoid the use of tax dollars because we know it's a sensitive issue for some people."
According to Fred Shuback, the school district's controller and interim assistant superintendent of business and finance, the travel budget set up for the International Residential Academy was budgeted for $8,000 in the beginning of the 2013-14 fiscal year. As of Dec. 15 the budget had $1,383 expended, leaving $6,627 available in the budget.
Skilling's roundtrip flight to China cost $1,117 out of the travel budget. Meanwhile, Weiming paid the flight cost for Schwarz, Nuss and Tang, as well as food and hotels costs. Shuback noted that a portion of Tang's expense may be charged to the travel line as well, but he won't know how much until after Jan. 1.
"The reason Oxford is in the position it is, is because of the selflessness of our teaching staff, our building principals and their leadership and then the overall leadership of the district when it comes to teaching and learning Dr. Jim Schwarz," Skilling said. "Without all these people working tirelessly and selflessly we would not be having this conversation."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.