MILLINOCKET, Maine — They aren’t the 60 students school leaders had hoped for, but the three Chinese students enrolled at Stearns High School are settling in well, and an agent is in China seeking recruits, officials said Sunday.
“I think they are having a ball,” Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Smith said of the newcomers. “They are with home stays and we have excellent reports on them. They are learning a lot and we are learning a lot so it has been great so far.”
Millinocket School Committee Chairman Arnold Hopkins said he believed the two girls and boy are seniors but school officials are working to determine what academic level would most benefit the three, Smith said.
“They are like every other kid. We are trying to find what level they should be at,” Smith said. “Their transcripts in China are quite different from how we would do it.”
Their varied abilities to speak English, and the vast differences between Chinese and American education, also make that a somewhat involved process, especially since Millinocket’s China recruiting program is in its first year, Smith said.
“We are trying to establish a program that is appropriate for them,” Smith said. “One of them is a junior and he is fairly conversant in English. We have a girl who is conversant but less so, and then another girl and her English is not very good yet.”
Millinocket school leaders made international news, and drew some international criticism, last spring when they announced they wanted to enroll 60 Chinese students in a program starting this month that would offer them a taste of American life at a typical rural American high school, but recruiting difficulties left them with six students.
Town residents generally approved of the plan.
At about $24,000 tuition per student, the program was seen as helping keep the school department solvent against state and federal cuts while providing students to offset a student population decline that leaves Millinocket with less than half the students it had a decade ago. Lee Academy and some other Maine schools recruit Asians extensively.
To offset the enrollment shortage, the school committee recently cut about $400,000 from the schools’ budget, Hopkins said Sunday.
The cuts included three middle school and one teacher’s position left open by resignations; moving sixth-graders into Granite Street School, which also effectively saved teaching positions; and savings expected by lower heat costs when the new high school boiler system is installed and through use of undesignated fund balances, Hopkins said.
Meanwhile, the school system’s adviser on its China program, is due back from there in about two weeks. Millinocket’s China recruiting program is open year-round to Chinese students, but new recruits might have to enroll next year, Smith said.
Much of the school system’s success hinges upon U.S. State Department and Chinese government approval and efficiency, Smith said.