Janesville-to-China trips raise questions

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

JANESVILLE—The principals of Craig and Parker high schools will be in China for a week in October, and that has a school board member asking questions.

Kevin Murray said he is asking on behalf of people who want to understand the administration's China initiative and how it is carrying out those plans.

“It makes us adversaries because we don't know,” Murray said.

“I don't know where we're going. I don't know where we've been, and the people I represent don't know, either,” Murray said.

Superintendent Karen Schulte has been to China four times since last November, and several other school officials have traveled there as well. Murray and others have asked for an accounting, and the administration has said it will deliver a report next month, Murray said.

Murray said he feels he is in the dark about what's been happening. He learned only recently that when school board member Kristen Hesselbacher traveled to China with Schulte, Hesselbacher paid her own way.

Schulte hopes to arrange for students from China and other countries to pay tuition to attend high school in Janesville. The Chinese are said to be especially interested in using Janesville as a springboard to UW-Rock County and then UW-Madison.

Murray said he needs to know who has traveled to China, who is paying for what, what the potential revenue is, what the curriculum will be and how many staff hours are being spent to develop the program.

Schulte recently sent out an email newsletter that said the principals, Chief Information Officer Bob Smiley, Parker High School computer science teacher Bob Getka and Craig High School academic learning coach Lisa Brovick would travel to China “to develop a pathway from our high schools to UW-Rock and UW-Madison.”

Murray said October is an important time in the school year, coming just before state testing.

“We need them here. Why couldn't this have been done in the summer? Why do they have to go at all?” Murray asked.

“I hear a lot of the same questions,” board President Greg Ardrey said.

The board doesn't have a roadmap for where Schulte is taking the program, Ardrey said, and the board should keep asking questions, and there should be answers.

“But in doing so there needs to be some latitude for the development” of the program, Ardrey said.

Ardrey said he will go along on an upcoming trip to China, courtesy of the Asia Society, which has been interested in the district since it recognized the quality of the district's Mandarin program in 2011.

Schulte said Principal Shawn Galvin of Lincoln Elementary School and one other person will be on that trip.

Schulte also said a global studies teacher from Craig High will attend a conference in China in March, and arrangements are being made so Getka can teach Advanced Placement computer science to local and Chinese students using video conferencing.

“I apologize if I haven't been clear, but certainly I expect board members to ask me questions,” Schulte said.

“My team tries to give you talking points so when you communicate with the community, you'll have the right answers,” she added.

Schulte said she is trying to achieve one of the top goals the school board has given her—increase revenue. To do that requires outside-the-box efforts, she said.

“If I am going down a path that is unacceptable to you, then we really need to talk about the goals you set for me,” she added.

As for the principals' trip, that's one of many that staff members take throughout the school year to conferences and the like, she said.

“I believe our high school principals can fulfill this mission, do the things they need to do, and our high schools will be well covered,” Schulte said.

Murray was not satisfied.

“The more time I see administrators away from what we hire and pay them to do, the more I'm inclined to say we have too many administrators,” Murray responded.

Board member Cathy Myers defended the process, saying “global literacy” and language studies will improve overall student achievement.


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