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School News
'Marriage' to give birth to housing for intl. students

by Trevor Keiser

October 30, 2013

Oxford Community Schools is one step closer to being able to house international students after signing on the dotted line to a new international partnership with the Weiming Education Group out of Hong Kong, China.

"Our new partnership with Weiming Education Group will move us closer to making the globe our campus," said Superintendent Dr. William Skilling. "This partnership will not only provide an opportunity for Chinese students to study at Oxford International, but also opens the door for our own Oxford Students to study in China.

Weiming Education Group was founded in 1999 by Chairman and CEO Hao Lin. Since then, the group has grown from three full-time staff members to over 300 staff members and to go from zero students to over 25,000 in Weiming Schools located in 11 major cities in China.

"The greatest challenge we face today in public education is preparing our students to live and work in a global world that is changing 24/7," Skilling said. "Today, we are taking another step forward with our new partnership with Weiming to better prepare our students for our changing global world."

The plan

The student center, which is to be built and paid for by the Weiming Group, will not only house students from China, but from other countries in which OCS has sister schools as well.

"This will allow us to grow to 200-plus (international) students," Skilling said. "It also allows us to have a place to house students from Mexico because that's starting to really ramp up now."

As to where the housing will be built, Skilling said they're not certain yet.

"Our hope is that it might be built right on the high school grounds, that's our number one choice," he said.

If that's the case, the facility would probably be built where the practice baseball fields are, so instead of having to buy land to build a center, Weiming would be buying land to replace practice fields, noted Skilling.

Details as to the style of housing to be built and how much it will cost have yet to be determined as well.

"Their architect is going to get back to us in a couple weeks for what the requirements are they have for the facility," Skilling said. "It will be housing for the students, include classrooms computer labs for the kids and an indoor activity space for the students."

They've also talked about possibly having a virtual school in the building as a way to teach to the Weiming School in China.

"They're (also) talking about having some hotel type rooms so international families have a place to stay," Skilling added. "I'm not sure that's going to happen, but that's part of what's being looked at."

While Weiming has developed partnerships in other districts including Rockford, East Kentwood and Traverse City, Oxford will be their "flagship partner."

"In China, in order to have an international school you must have a legal agreement with a foreign school," explained Skilling. "We're that foreign school and what that enables them to develop is a 2+2 program. Where the students at the Weiming International schools will take their ninth and tenth grade course work in China, but it will be Oxford's curriculum."

According to the contract, "This will facilitate the Foreign Students' transfer to the OCS district for their junior and senior years of study." Skilling said Weiming has signed one-year deals with other districts, but Oxford has a three-year contract and it will be the first school to have a housing facility built by Weiming.

Entering into Agreement

The vote to enter into agreement with Weiming was unanimously voted on by the Oxford School Board of Education on Oct. 15. An official signing ceremony was held on Oct. 17. In attendance at the ceremony were government representatives from Oakland County and Oxford Township, business representatives from Automation Alley and partner representatives from Rochester College and Oakland University, as well as school administrators from both Weiming Education Group and OCS along with Oxford School board members.

Former President and current Chancellor of Rochester College, Dr. Rubel Shelly, lent his support to the project.

"I have been an advocate of this program from the very first time Dr. Skilling and I discussed it. I am so personally committed to it that I am in fact teaching in the program this semester and teaching on this campus. I appreciate the creative opportunity that this program offers and can only wish I had a similar opportunity when went through my high school experience," Shelly said.

Representing Oakland County was Oxford graduate Allen Webber, who is Oakland County's business and developmental manager for Asian markets. Webber said it was an honor to see the cultural connections that are being made between Oxford and China.

Webber noted that Oakland County leads the United States in the number of international firms with over 950 from various countries.

"China is by far the leader in those international firms," he said. "This year alone we've attracted eight Chinese international firms into our markets to do business and to work with our great universities and school systems."

Skilling likened the new partnership to that of a marriage relationship. He said Oakland County Deputy Executive Matt Gibb was the "matchmaker" who introduced Skilling to Weiming's founder, Chairman and CEO Hao Lin. As a result of the matchmaking, Skilling said they began a dating relationship when Skilling was asked to be a consultant for Weiming and help them get established in Michigan.

"What really struck me about Mr. Lin was how abnormal he was. Then I realized I was abnormal too," Skilling said with a laugh. "There is nothing bad about being abnormal. If you want to do amazing things, you have to be willing to be abnormal. Being that we both had organizations that were abnormal and striving for amazing things I wanted to see this marriage take place."

"Like a marriage we will run into challenges," continued Skilling. "There will be mistakes our partners will make during this marriage, but because of our commitment to our vision and this marriage lasting for 100 years or more we will work through it and only become stronger as a result."

Lin agreed.

"I foresee that this partnership agreement we're entering into tonight will see challenges and it will see questions. What I want to tell you is, don't be afraid," he said. "The challenges and questions we will have may turn out to be a testimony (to) the fact that we're approaching our vision and making global education and a global campus a reality."

Lin said in society there are three extreme forces politics, economy and education.

"In my opinion, politics and economy are more for individual gain whereas education is about servicing others," he explained. "Therefore I believe in this era of changes, education should resume the most vital role, but traditional education in perspective would be to nurture and grow a Chinese student into a Chinese national and U.S. student into a U.S. citizen."

However, I believe that perspective needs to change. We must teach Chinese students who can embrace diversity and differences," he continued. "Vice versa we should nurture our U.S. students into citizens who understand and appreciate different cultures including the Chinese culture."

Having been married for 17 years, Lin believes "the foundation of a happy marriage is not to embrace each other's strengths, but to tolerate and embrace their (partners) weaknesses."

"I promise to Oxford Community Schools and to Dr. Skilling that as we grow into this partnership and this marriage, we'll be dedicated to you in times of better and worse," Lin said.

OCS's gain through partnership

Oxford's International Academy has seen consistent growth over the past four years, from nine students the first year, 13 the second year, 26 the third year and 40 this year. While the academy serves as a way to expose students both foreign and domestic to immerse themselves with and in different cultures, hosting international students also provides great revenue for the district as well.

Every foreign student who studies at OCS must pay $10,000 in tuition.

"Tuition cost covers the education of these students and we also provide ESL (English as a Second Language) support, tutorial support and counseling," Skilling said.

On top of that, the district also gets State Foundation Allowance funding for first-year foreign students as well, which, based on this year's amount, is $7,145 per pupil.

"That foundation funding of $7,145 goes toward the general fund to support the education of our kids," added Skilling. "None of that is used to support international students."

Using this year's 40 foreign students as an example, the district has received $400,000 in tuition. Of those 40 students, 24 of them are first year students, which brings an additional $171,480 from state funding, making the total revenue $571,480.

Skilling noted that the first partnership with Weiming will begin this winter.

"We're going to have elementary age students coming, grades three through five staying with host families and attending our elementary schools for two weeks," he said.

Along with the Weiming partnership, OCS has 11 sister schools in China and two in Mexico.