Innovation Academy Middle School principal, Melissa Kapeckas, is home from China! At the end of her trip, she was too busy to post, so here’s another report from her experience. We will host Mr. Pei, vice principal of Handan No. 31 Middle School, next fall. What will he think of our school? Will he observe successes and challenges that we can’t even guess at?
At Handan No. 31 Middle School, the administration and staff want students to have as many opportunities available as possible when they become adults. It is a combined middle/high school, and their success in seventh-ninth grade will have a big impact on their future. At the end of ninth grade (the end of compulsory education in China), students must take exams. The highest achieving students are awarded a seat in a “key” school; key schools generally have more resources with regarding to funding, facilities, and equipment than non-key schools and high school administrators at non-key schools have to be savvy in order to provide resources for their schools. Each year, some of the rising ninth graders of Handan No. 31 Middle School move on to key schools, some move to vocational schools for training in technical schools and some stay on for senior high school at Handan No. 31 School. What can Principal Wang do to give his students the most opportunity possible?
Meeting Funding Challenges
One distinct challenge for the administration of Handan No. 31 School is funding. Teachers earn between 40-50,000 yuan/year at Handan No. 31 Middle School ($6600-$8300/year). The Chinese government currently provides about half of the funding for teachers’ salaries. However, the school faces a minimum quota of the number of teachers that must be employed at school each year. Because high school students are charged fees for tuition across China (800 yuan/year or $130/year), Principal Wang has increased enrollment of senior high school students to help offset costs. He has also had to hire 30 temporary teachers this past year in order to meet the quota. Temporary teachers are not paid as much and do not earn benefits. Beyond meeting the tight funding needs of the school, Principal Wang tries to budget carefully in order to provide scholarships for the tuition costs for the children at his school facing economic hardships, including many rural migrant children.
Developing a Niche
In order to attract students to stay on for senior high school, non-key schools must develop a niche as a school. Handan No. 31 Middle School’s niche is the arts. There are many course offerings in electives, such as dance, visual arts, music, and tai chi. Arts students can specialize in one of these arts and take a full courseload in addition to their academics. While at Handan No. 31 Middle School, I visited a drawing class, a portrait class, a ballet class, a tai chi class, and a chorus rehearsal. Despite the average class size of 50 in academic classes, arts classes ranged in size from 10-25 students. In 2012, 96.7% of the senior high school students applying to arts schools were accepted.
Increasing Academic Performance
From 2010 to 2012, Handan No. 31 School increased their percentage of students passing the gao kao college entrance exam from 19.5 to 32.3%. Principal Wang shared a vision of continual improvement for students with the entire staff. Vice Principals worked with department chairs and teachers to set goals. Teaching teams that met their goals were awarded an 8,000 yuan bonus ($1330). Last year, 128 No. 31 students went on to college, the highest percentage in the school’s 20 year history. While Principal Wang acknowledged that the school still has lots of improvement to make, he took pride in the school’s rapid progress.
~ Melissa Kapeckas