School board scrutinizes foreign exchange program

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Cross-cultural contacts are an important part of learning for students in Cabot Public Schools, superintendent Tony Thurman told school board members at the June 10 meeting. But in light of growing demand on Advanced Placement (AP) classes and instances this year of sponsor families telling foreign students to find other places to live, “We are asking you to put limits on the number of foreign exchange students we can take in.”

Thurman made the request in a committee meeting held prior to the regular school board meeting. Matters heard by the board in the meeting included the resignation of Wendel Msall.

Cabot School Board of Directors members Brian Evans, Ricky Hill, Dean Martin, Mall, Donna Nash and Thurman attended the committee meeting; Corey Williams and Mark Russell were present at the regular meeting.

Other administrators at the meetings included deputy superintendent Harold Jeffcoat, high school principal Henry Hawkins, and high school counseling department director Janet Walter.

In tendering his resignation, Msall explained that his daughter-in-law was about to be considered for employment as teacher. Under state law, a relative of a sitting board member cannot be hired.

Msall said his intention is to run for election to the vacant seat during the September school board election. Msall’s term would have expired at the end of 2015. A person’s election to the school board would not affect a relative who is already employed by the district, Msall explained.

However, the plan appears to be foiled by another state law.

County Clerk Larry Clarke, in a reply to a query from Thurman, explained the law states a vacancy on the school board would be filled by an election following “the usual process.”

That process begins 100 days prior to the election. Msall’s resignation on June 10 is two days past the 100-day mark, meaning his replacement would be appointed. However, an appointed director cannot run for re-election to the post, Clarke’s response said.

At the committee discussion on exchange students, Thurman remarked that, “Foreign exchange students are nice to have, but this is becoming a very difficult process for us to manage.”

Janet Walters, director of the high school counseling department, detailed the conditions being faced by administrators.

The first part of the problem is the large numbers of exchange students who want to participate;

For foreign exchange student placement services, it is a business matter, “They make money off placements,” Thurman said. “We need your feedback on guidelines, because we need to start putting in some restrictions and get this under control.”

Walter said counselors met earlier in the year to discuss the foreign exchange program because of the large number of students, “We had 15 this year… That is a class.”

In the 2009-10 school year there were five exchange students; 2011-12 there were nine; “And I could add five more to the nine we have right now,” Walter said.

There are already nine placements filled, Walter said. It becomes a matter of whether or not a local student gets into a class, especially with AP classes, which are already faced with a high demand, “That’s taking seats away from our students,” she said.

The agreed upon recommendation is to limit exchange students to nine, one from each organization already established with the high school, Walter said.

Placing the students can be difficult with some organizations requiring mostly AP classes.

“Where do you draw the line? Who do you say gets in those classes? And who do you say does not get in those classes?”

In one instance, a student was enrolled in a non-AP class, but sat in on an AP class and did the assignments. Fortunately, a seat came open in the second semester and the student was able to take the AP exam.

Other problems included students who are not prepared for the program or course of study, and who are not able to cope with the language differences.

Thurman said another increasing problem is host families who say, “Um. We want out.”

Walter said this year saw three instances of students being told to leave. “One host family told the young lady, ‘Find a place to live.’”

One of the counseling center staff members became host for two students told by host families to find someplace else to live, Walter said.

Whatever decision is made by the board is the one the staff will use, Walter said. “But we all need to be on the same page for when we say ‘no,’ because [placement services] will be calling you,” she told the board members.

The committee recommended that exchange students be limited to nine, which was adopted at the regular meeting.

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