Our views: Schulte must do better with details on initiative

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Communication, Dr. Schulte. Communication.

If we could fault Janesville Superintendent of Schools Karen Schulte for one thing regarding her China initiative, which is part of the Janesville International Education Program, it is a lack of communication with the school board and the public.

Granted, this is a new and uncharted venture, and it's impossible for Schulte to know every turn it will take and every trip it will require. Still, she could have avoided much of the criticism and skepticism that has come her way if she had done a better job of laying out what she knew, when she knew it.

Overall, Schulte's plan to bring students from China and other countries to Janesville to attend our high schools and pay tuition to do so is an innovative approach to helping address the challenges before the district and the goals that have been set for her.

The world is smaller than ever, and it's shrinking more by the day with the growth in technology and increased competition in the world marketplace. The idea of Janesville students learning beside young people from other countries and cultures—and learning from them, as well—has considerable merit and could give local students advantages as they move to their next levels of education and into the jobs of the future.

Janesville isn't the first district to go in this direction. Oxford Community Schools in Michigan started a similar program and graduated its first nine Chinese students in June. That initiative is serving as a model for the plans in Janesville.

Besides enhancing international exposure and learning of Janesville students, the local initiative has the potential to address two primary goals that the school board has established for Schulte: increase enrollment and find new revenue.

It's not clear how much tuition the district could charge the foreign students, but that number could be high enough to not only pay for their educations but help support other programs, as well. The district's findings and decisions in this area will be critical to establishing the initiative's potential.

At last Tuesday's meeting, the school board endorsed the program on an 8-1 vote. Kevin Murray, a persistent skeptic of the plan, was the lone “no” vote.

“I don't even know what I'm being asked to approve because I don't see any plan, any budget,” Murray said.

While he stands alone in the level of his concern on the board, others have raised questions, and members of the public have indicated that they aren't satisfied with the amount of information that has been made available.

From the beginning, Schulte should have worked harder at overcommunicating—spelling out every plan that was in place, every trip that was scheduled, every expense that was expected and anything else that board members and the public might want to know about this bold effort. Understandably, she couldn't have foreseen everything, but a solid, detailed plan with timely updates would have been better than having to scramble later to provide desired information.

Going forward, we're intrigued by the possibilities, but Schulte must do a better job of being out front of the questions and upfront with whatever she knows.

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