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China visit yields three more sister schools



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Strolling along the Great Wall of China and chatting are (from left) Oxford Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives and Technology Tim Throne, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller and Oxford Superintendent Dr. William Skilling. (click for larger version)
January 12, 2011 - Oxford Community Schools (OCS) can add three more Chinese middle and high schools to its family tree.

During OCS Superintendent Dr. William Skilling visit to China from Dec. 8-20, he signed three additional sister school agreements with Xiamen Jimei Middle School, Number One Middle School of Quanzthou and Number One High School of Zhangzhou.

"I was very pleased to be able to form three more sister schools in China because (of) all the sister schools we have, these are very prestigious schools in China," Skilling said.

"These are highly competitive, highly selective schools...I am very thankful to be lining ourselves with very high preforming schools," he added.

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Students at Chinese middle schools range from grades 7-9, while students in grades 10-12 make up Chinese high schools, according to Skilling.

Tim Throne, the Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives and Technology for the district, accompanied Skilling to China and noted that a fourth sister school, Xiamen Haicang Middle School, was visited and a sister school agreement would be signed in the future.

They also visited their first sister school, Northeast Yucai in Shenyang, to discuss further cooperations for development of the Chinese program at Oxford and the English program at Northeast Yucai.

Skilling noted that these sister schools would be the "feeder schools for the resident school that we are trying."

When asked if the International Residency Academy was on schedule to open in the fall, Skilling said it would be.

"I do not have any concerns about next fall," Skilling said. "I think the issue will be we will have more students than we can handle want to come."

He noted 20 Chinese students would be staying at the residency, adding the late start to recruiting was the main reason the academy did not start this fall.

He explained Chinese students interested in studying overseas usually visit perspective locations during their two week break for Chinese New Year.

Thirty-Eight students and two teachers from China will be visiting Oxford for two weeks starting January 29.

"We are well known now because of our sister school relationships and there is a lot of interest," Skilling said.

The district was able to secure additional curriculum resources for their Chinese language program, including books, teaching materials, support materials and internet links and make connections with representatives from the HanBan and United States Department of Education.

Skilling and Throne met with the Deputy Director of the HanBan, Wang Yongli, to discuss receiving further resources from them.

"Now we have a direct connection with the HanBan...and they are going to help us by providing textbooks and teaching materials," Skilling said.

The HanBan will also be supplying a guest teacher for one year to come to Oxford and teach Chinese to students.

The HanBan is a nonprofit organization that funds Confucius Institutes and Confucius classrooms worldwide. They provide educational study tours when administrators and teachers visit China.

They also met with Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller to talk about "educational issues of the day," according to Skilling.

The main topic of conversation revolved around OCS implementation of language program.

"They (US Department of Education) are interested in having a model by which every student can learn a world language and he (Miller) asked me a question whether or not we should focus on kids who have a high aptitude in linguistics and focus on them in terms of developing a world language proficiency," Skilling said.

He responded by saying if math, English, social studies and science are important for students to be a core class, why couldn't world language become one as well.

"If we can make it financially sustainable for those other four classes, why can't we make world language financially sustainable," he added. "I think that it is something that we can make financially sustainable and I do think that it is something that just about every student can become proficient at," he told Miller.

Throne felt that it was important for him go since he is charge of overseeing the district's strategic initiative.

"Because the language program is such a big initiative, I felt it was important that I meet with officials over there and see where I could help out," he said.

Throne, who has never been to China before, was amazed how big Beijing was.

"It's the equivalent of all the people in Michigan in one city," Throne said. "When you just drive for hours and you are still in the city of Beijing, it's hard to comprehend."

He added that it was neat to see and experience schools in a different culture, but "kids are kids."

"No matter what school we went to, the kids would have the same type of questions that our kids had and were interested in the same type of things our kids are interested in," Throne added.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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