South Korean educators plan visit to Lee Academy

Posted Feb. 01, 2010, at 10:37 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:06 p.m.

LEE, Maine — Some of South Korea’s top educators will visit Lee Academy next week to help certify a 600-pupil academy satellite school due to open in Daegu in September, the headmaster said Monday.

Construction of the $2.2 million Daegu International School of Lee Academy is almost finished.

South Korea’s Ministry of Education granted initial approval to the school last month, Headmaster Bruce Lindberg said.

A ministry committee chaired by Chong Jae Lee, a Seoul National University professor and former Korea Education Development Institute president, will tour the school and meet its board of directors and SAD 30 officials starting Monday, Lindberg said.

“If this committee were the equivalent of what we have in the U.S., it would be like the secretary of education visiting Lee,” Lindberg said Monday. “So it is a very big deal.”

The Daegu school is among Lee Academy’s virtually unprecedented efforts to market American high school education to the Far East while expanding its enrollment of foreign-born students educated in Lee, a small northern Penobscot County town about 10 miles east of Lincoln and Interstate 95.

Billed as a sister school to Lee Academy, the Shenzhen American International School opened in September in the subtropical port city of 12 million in southern China, with 15 pupils in grades one through six. As of Monday, 74 Shenzhen students were enrolled in grades one through seven, Lindberg said.

Eventually, the Daegu and Shenzhen schools will expand to kindergarten to grade 12, Lindberg said.

Located about 100 miles southeast of Seoul, Daegu is the third-largest metropolitan area in South Korea. The Daegu school is among as many as seven Lee campuses that could arise in Asia.

“This gives us name recognition in another country and will provide income for us here in the U.S.,” Lindberg said. “Hopefully, it will generate students for us and also, not to get lost in it, is the idea that some of our Lee Academy students here can do a year abroad in these schools within the next four or five years.”

Besides reversing the shrinkage found at most northern Maine schools over the last five years, the Asian efforts are designed to help pay school operational costs and for an upgrade of the school’s campus, officials have said. Those plans are being formulated.

The foreign infusion already funds 10 Advanced Placement classes at Lee, by far the most in northern Maine, said Bob Potts, the school’s director of advancement.

The Maine International Trade Center gave the academy its 2009 International Innovator of the Year award for its Asia expansion.

Not all of Lee’s overseas plans are coming to fruition quickly. Lindberg signed agreements in July to create campuses in Shijiazhuang, a city of 9 million southwest of Beijing, and Chengdu, a city of 11 million in central China.

“Those efforts haven’t been canceled, but they have slowed down, not on our part, but theirs,” Lindberg said.

The academy’s contract to create the first American high school in China, in Wuhan, a city of 9.1 million 500 miles north of Hong Kong, resulted in a language school that taught English to about 30 Chinese before academy officials closed it late last year, Lindberg said.

“There were issues with licensing,” was Lindberg’s only comment.

Lee already has hired a headmaster for the Daegu International School and seeks a dozen U.S. teachers to staff it, Lindberg said. Eight American teachers work at the Shenzhen school.

Lee is a private, independent boarding and day school that serves about 230 students from 23 Maine towns and boarding students from 16 states and 25 countries, according to its Web site, leeacademy.org. It has 78 international students in the school’s dormitories, including 55 Asian students.

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