Partnership with Chinese school possible following recent visit
The Tecumseh Public School (TPS) Strategic Planning process that the district launched in August of 2013 could possibly have an impact as far away as China. The director of the Zunyi Carey International School from the Huichuan District in Zunyi, Guizhou, China, was taking the opportunity to shadow TPS Supt. Kelly Coffin on Thursday, May 22, and observed the district’s Strategic Planning Committee Progress Report session that day.
“She told us her full name, but she prefers that we just call her by her American name, ‘Wendy,’” said Coffin, sharing a business card. Wendy’s name was written in Chinese characters on the back of her card, but it was difficult to translate.
The school administrator was accompanied by Dr. James Berry, a Tecumseh resident who is also a Professor at Eastern Michigan University and helped with translations, although Wendy’s English is very good.
The school she represents is an elementary school for grades K-6. Wendy also happens to own a construction company and is in the process of building a secondary school at the same site in the city of Zunyi, where approximately one million people reside. The school expects to have 1,200 students within five years.
“Right now, the education system in China is changing, because we’re trying to move toward decentralizing and having more freedom for choosing,” said Wendy. “We’re changing from the more traditional ideas where everything depends on the tests.”
She said that in China, as with many other countries, testing is key to whether a student may have an opportunity to go on to college and, in turn, get a better job.
“We’re trying to develop the potential ability for each student and individual, and to recognize their potential talents,” she added. “But because we have so many people still living at the lower level, it can be a challenge to teach all the kids in order to get a basic education.
“Now some of the parents have changed their minds about the traditional way because some of them want their kids to try to find the best thing or best fit along the way,” Wendy said. “The change is that not every kid is pushed into college but may have a talent in another field like electricity, or engineering, but won’t have to pass through that final test. We’re working on getting some of them into a career or profession.”
Berry pointed out that Wendy’s construction company recently completed building a trade school, and said there is becoming a new understanding, even among government officials, that going to college or the university isn’t for everyone.
“There is an understanding that some of the students may become plumbers or enter some other field,” he said, likening the school to something like the LISD TECH Center or a community college.
“Sometimes students may not be very good at math or reading but can have a different kind of professional training for a job, without so much pressure about taking the test before they graduate,” Wendy added.
There are 12 other teachers currently visiting the United States with Wendy, and they are observing at Eastern Michigan University as well as the Lincoln Consolidated Schools south of Ypsilanti.
“We’ve learned a lot,” said Wendy. “We saw some differences in training. My school is a private school, and we want to try to move our teachers into building a team. It’s not enough just for me to go and share ideas, we need to involve our school.”
During the Strategic Planning meeting, Wendy sat with the group at the tables, listening intently to the sharing between teachers and other district staff.
“I hope our teachers can learn more about strategies and the philosophy of education from our experience here,” she said.
“I also feel they have a lot to teach us,” said Berry. “There are things they do in having to work with a large number of students and in circumstances that can be more challenging in some ways than what we have here. We can learn from them, too.”
A contingent of Tecumseh teachers may just get that chance next year. Following the session, Wendy expressed interest in exploring a partnership between Tecumseh Public Schools and her school district in China. Coffin was invited to visit as well.
“She’s looking for teachers to go to China and work with her teachers on how we work with children here,” said Coffin. “She and Dr. Berry were very impressed with our strategic planning process on Thursday and the commitment of our teachers.”
Coffin added that the district would be exploring the possibility of the Tecumseh educators traveling this year, and potentially travel to China in the Summer of 2015.