Janesville schools superintendent responds to critics, details China trips

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Frank Schultz
Friday, September 6, 2013

JANESVILLE—Superintendent Karen Schulte is responding to a call by a Janesville School Board member to lay out details of recent trips to China.

Schulte and several other district officials and school board members have traveled to China numerous times since November. Schulte has said the trips helped lay the groundwork for relationships with Chinese schools and parents.

The goal is twofold, Schulte has said:

-- To gain new revenue by bringing in tuition-paying students from China and other countries.

-- To expand the horizons and increase academic achievement of local students by exposing them to other cultures.

Schulte published blog entries this week in response to school board member Kevin Murray's comments at a school board meeting Aug. 27.

Murray said he was speaking for constituents who were asking him for details about the trips, who was paying for them, and what the purpose was.

“I want to be an advocate for this program, so I want to hear about it,” Murray said at the meeting.

Murray asked for an accounting of the costs and revenues of Schulte's Janesville International Education Program.

Schulte had promised such an accounting at a board meeting in September, Murray said at the time, but Schulte has given at least a preview of that information in her blog.

More information is laid out in a memo included in the packet for the board's meeting Tuesday, when Schulte will ask the board to approve her Janesville International Education Program.

Schulte's blog on Friday listed trips, costs and other details.

Murray did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

The figures show that most of the income and most of the expenses came from tuition paid by Chinese families who sent students to a “summer institute” in Janesville in July. Grants and donations provided lesser amounts.

Schulte's balance sheet shows a net income, so far, of $67,015. She has said she wants to bring tuition-paying Chinese high school students to Janesville for their junior and/or senior years.

The income from those students would presumably be much more than from a three-week summer program, but the tuition amount has not been set, or at least made public.

Schulte wrote in her blog Thursday that doors opened to China after the school district's Mandarin Chinese language program gained international notoriety several years ago. Offers to visit Chinese schools ensued.

“Opportunities for international connections started to multiply and grew faster than any of us expected,” Schulte wrote. “The Asia Society invited me to China, and I took Commissioner (Kristin) Hesslebacher along. Then, Dr. (Robert) Smiley (district chief information officer) was invited to travel there. The purpose of the travel was to set up partner schools and form collaborative relationships with schools in China.”

Schulte's blogs did not detail the sources of donations that paid for some of the travel. A district spokesman said getting that information would take time because "different reports would have to be completed, merged and sorted."

In previous interviews, Schulte has said some of the costs were paid by two district suppliers, NASCO of Fort Atkinson and Rhyme Business Products, whose president is a Janesville native.

More trips are in the works as the district seeks partners around the globe. The principals of Craig and Parker high schools are planning a trip to China in October. Accompanying them will be Parker computer science teacher Bob Getka and Parker academic learning coach Lisa Brovick.

The latest China trip has the goal of developing a pathway from Janesville high schools through UW-Rock County to UW-Madison. UW Colleges official Tim Urbonya will be part of the delegation.

Getka has developed a moodle that will allow him to teach Advanced Placement computer science to students in China this fall, according to an internal district newsletter. A moodle is a tool that allows teachers and students to interact online.

The course would generate income for the district, the newsletter states.

Meanwhile, Smiley has been invited to a vocational training workshop at American University in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a trip that came about after school board member Cathy Myers contacted her brother who works for the U.S. Commercial Service in Cambodia.

And, the district plans an International Winter Institute this school year. Visiting students will attend local classes during China's New Year vacation.

Efforts are also underway to establish relationships with schools in Colombia, Mexico and Slovakia, and to enhance longtime relationships with schools in Argentina, France, Germany, Thailand and Spain, Schulte has said.

Last updated: 3:35 pm Friday, September 6, 2013

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