LEE, Maine — South Korean Ministry of Education and municipal officials toured Lee Academy on Tuesday as part of the certification process for a proposed 580-pupil satellite school the academy hopes to open in Daegu, the country’s third-largest city, in September.
Construction of the $2.2 million Daegu International School of Lee Academy is almost finished, but the South Korean certification is not assured, academy officials said. The ministerial committee visited classrooms, spoke to South Korean students and met with SAD 30 officials Tuesday to verify the academy application.
“This seems to be a very good school. There is a very strong educational atmosphere here,” said Chong Jae Lee, the committee’s leader and a Seoul National University professor emeritus.
The committee’s fact-finding mission began with its arrival Monday, but Lee said he saw many opportunities for Daegu, Lee Academy and the town of Lee to benefit from the satellite school’s creation.
Lee Academy officials hope to develop an active student exchange program with the Daegu campus and plan to use funding from tuition and other income from the Daegu operation to benefit the academy.
Lee Academy students eventually visiting or studying in South Korea, Lee said, might be impressed by the rigors of education in South Korea, where stronger emphasis is placed on test scores good enough to rate acceptance to colleges or universities in that country.
South Korean students studying in Lee might benefit from the increased emphasis American education places on developing students’ cultural, social and interactive leadership skills, Lee said. Both sides will benefit from the cultural exposure inherent in student exchanges, although much growth is still needed.
“When we think of the U.S., the first thing that comes up is the strong emphasis on globalization in the U.S., but I am not certain if the American mind is truly globalized,” Lee said.
Similarly, Lee expressed doubt that any American secondary school could open in South Korea without considerable help from South Korean educators and local government officials.
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, and about 74 Shenzhen students are enrolled in grades one through seven there, Lee Academy school Headmaster Bruce Lindberg has said.
Plans are for the Daegu and Shenzhen schools eventually to expand to kindergarten to grade 12, Lindberg said. Lee already has hired a headmaster for the Daegu school and seeks a dozen U.S. teachers to staff it, he said. Eight American teachers work at the Shenzhen school.
The local government of Daegu and the South Korean Ministry of Education are encouraging the development of Daegu International School as part of plans to improve the region’s economy by importing more American industry, said Charlie Bae, Daegu’s international affairs and trade division director. Daegu is about 100 miles southeast of Seoul.
Under South Korean law, no more than 30 percent of the proposed Daegu school’s population can be South Koreans. The rest will be the children of foreign workers, Bae said.
Bae said he was aware of only one other American effort to market a school in South Korea. That comes from a private academy in California, he said. An earlier effort, involving a Canadian private academy, failed to win certification after that school’s construction, near Inchon, was completed.
“I think that in that situation, the ministry saw things that they weren’t entirely comfortable with,” said Craig Brewer, president of International Student Exchange, a nonprofit organization from Babylon, N.Y., and a member of the Lee Academy board of trustees. “We haven’t heard or seen those things here. We are pretty confident of a positive outcome.”
The ministry is due to decide on the academy’s application on March 10, Brewer said.
Lee is a quasi-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.