You run a small, rural school system that is steadily losing students and hope. With the closing of the local paper mill, the town is down to 5,000 people; the high school has 200 teens, half of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch. Where do you turn for relief?
In one of the most interesting education stories of the year, The New York Times reports that the superintendent in Millinocket, Maine, is recruiting students from China to rev up his flagging system.
It’s an audacious plan, considering that the superintendent wants to charge Chinese families $27,000 a year to send their children to a high school that now offers one AP class.
Yes, Maine is beautiful as Superintendent Kenneth Smith tells the Times, but Chinese families can pay a lot less and just vacation in the state for a month. I give the guy credit for his chutzpah. If it works, we ought to think about the idea for our struggling Georgia districts as I don’t think relief is coming their way next year from the state.
According to the Times: (This is only a bit of the story. Read it all. It’s great.)
Never mind that ever mind that Millinocket is an hour’s drive from the nearest mall or movie theater, or that it gets an average 93 inches of snow a year. Kenneth Smith, the schools superintendent, is so certain that Chinese students will eventually arrive by the dozen — paying $27,000 a year in tuition, room and board — that he is scouting vacant properties to convert to dormitories.
“We are going full-bore,” Dr. Smith said last week in his office at the school, Stearns High, where the Chinese words for “hello” and “welcome” were displayed on the dry-erase board and a Lonely Planet China travel guide sat on the conference table. “You’ve got to move if you’ve got something you believe is the right thing to do.”
On Friday, Dr. Smith left for China, where he is spending a week pitching Stearns High to school officials, parents and students in Beijing, Shanghai and two other cities. He has hired a consultant to help him make connections in China, lobbied Millinocket’s elected officials and business owners to embrace the plan and even directed the school’s cafeteria workers to add Chinese food to the menu.
With China’s emergence as an economic juggernaut, colleges, universities and private secondary schools have tried to recruit students from China and have even opened campuses there. But Millinocket’s plan may be unprecedented among public schools, even as they scramble for new sources of revenue.
“This is the first we’ve even heard of it,” said Alexis Rice, a spokeswoman for the National School Boards Association.
Dr. Smith, a native of Maine who has traveled outside New England only rarely, conceded he did not know much about China. But from what he had heard and read in recent months, he said, two things were clear: China had a large middle class with money to spend, and its students wanted to study here.