Millinocket schools continue effort to build China program

Posted April 02, 2013, at 3:40 p.m.
Kenneth Smith, Superintendent of Schools, Millinocket School Department
Nick Sambides
Kenneth Smith, Superintendent of Schools, Millinocket School Department

MILLINOCKET, Maine – It hasn’t drawn the number of students originally anticipated, but the Millinocket School Department’s efforts to bring more Chinese national students to town will be bolstered by Superintendent Kenneth Smith’s trip to China later this month, he says.

Smith will leave April 11 and return April 26. In between, Smith will visit Beijing, Shanghai and a third city to recruit more Chinese students and check on China-based educational initiatives that will bring as much as $200,000 to town schools starting in September, he said.

“It is absolutely essential that we have the program and continue to grow the program,” Smith said Monday. “I think that any money we bring in adds to the school system. There is no other money coming in because the revenue from the state and federal government is going down and we have had to cut our budget over $1 million in the last two years.”

Millinocket has seven Chinese students enrolled at Stearns High School, Smith said, and has established a dual diploma program in China — essentially a franchising of the school’s curricula — with a sister school.

Millinocket will make $44,000 in franchise fees this year, or $1,000 per Chinese student enrolled in the China-based high school, Smith has said. That, and a second franchise just approved, should draw $100,000 to $200,000 next year, Smith said.

On his trip, Smith will ensure that the schools are performing per educational standards, “answer parents’ questions and recruit more students to come over here,” he said.

It is impossible to yet say how many students will be recruited to come to Millinocket, Smith said.

Millinocket school leaders made international news, and drew some international criticism, about two years ago when they announced they wanted to enroll 60 Chinese students in a program starting in September 2011 that would offer them a taste of American life at a typical rural American high school.

It is among several Maine municipalities hoping to accomplish those goals and not the only one to encounter growth pains. An informal poll of state public high schools’ Chinese student enrollments taken in February showed the most students, 12, at Orono High School. Some private schools had close to 100.

Millinocket residents generally approved of the plan. Recruiting difficulties accounted for the school attracting only three Chinese students last year, school officials have said. School officials hope that the Chinese students will offset declining local student enrollments and school funding while providing the students and community with a glimpse of another culture.

Hopes of recruiting more Chinese students were bolstered when 26 Chinese students and three teachers participated in a new, weeklong intensive English and environmental sciences summer program at Stearns last summer. Smith will be visiting with the families of some of those students to get some of them enrolled at Stearns.

As many as 100 Chinese students could eventually attend Stearns, said Smith, who has made several trips to China.

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