Council of the Great City Schools execs tour China

groupThe delegation from the Council of the Great city Schools poses at Shanghai's prestigious Xiangming High school


rom March 31 to April 7, Ameson was pleased to host a delegation of six members of the Executive Committee of the Council of the Great City Schools: Executive Chairman Michael Casserly and the Superintendents from the cities of Washington, D.C.; Clevaland, Ohio; San Francisco, California; Orlando, Florida; and Saint Paul, Minnesota.

During the week-long visit, the delegation signed agreements of cooperation with major cities in Eastern China, engaged in structured and unstructured discussion with their Chinese peers, visited some of China’s most impressive public schools, and still found time for some tourism on the side.

Since its founding in 1994, Ameson has regularly sponsored and organized this type of exchange, with Western education professionals of all levels coming to visit China, and Chinese educators and government officials making study trips to countries from the U.S. to Finland to Kenya.

Opening a new door

signingCleveland, Ohio, and Shanghai's Huangpu District sign an agreement to partner up for educational exchangeDuring the first two days, the delegation set the stage for future cooperation with several MoUs. Michael Casserly and Ameson Executive Vice-Chairman Sean Zhang initiated a strategic partnership between the Council of the Great City Schools and Ameson, and each of the Superintendents signed agreements to partner up with different Chinese cities: Cleveland with Shanghai’s Huangpu District; Washington, D.C. with Ningbo; San Francisco with Hangzhou; Orlando with Wenzhou; and Saint Paul with Nanjing.

According to Mr. Casserly, “with this we are opening an important door for greater collaboration between our organizations and understanding between our great nations.” But this was only the first stage of the visit. Ameson’s core mission is not only to encourage international cooperation, we are also dedicated to facilitating the dialogue and mutual understanding that makes these partnerships substantial and effective.

Dialogue at the roundtable

suzhouCGCS Executive Director Michael Casserly exchanges gifts with Gu Yuehua, Director of the Suzhou Education BureauWith the different partnerships in place, the delegates turned their attention to furthering their understanding of education in China. After a day in Shanghai visiting Xiangming High School and the Ameson Foundation’s China headquarters, the delegates traveled to Ningbo, Zhejiang province, a national leader in education reform. While there, they attended the U.S.-Sino Regional Education Exchange and Cooperation Roundtable, hosted at Ningbo Foreign Affairs School’s elegant new campus.

During the Roundtable meeting, Shen Jianguang, Director of the Ningbo Education Bureau, and Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of Washington D.C. Public Schools, delivered keynote addresses. Mr. Shen gave a speech about the development and future aspirations of education in Zhejiang, and Ms. Henderson discussed how Washington D.C. has led the nation in education reform, and called for teachers to move from being “the sage on the stage” to being “the guide on the side”. The floor was then opened up for what Mr. Casserly called a “comprehensive and honest” discussion everything from strategies for maintaining student motivation, to how to assess the results of the No Child Left Behind policy.

During the trip, the delegates participated in other structured discussions with the Suzhou Education Bureau, and the leaders of several local schools.

And the dinner table

eatingRichard Carranza of San Francisco Unified School District and Wang Weiming of Shanghai's Huangpu District get in some laughs in between discussions of educational policyIn China, nothing is really accomplished until everyone sits down to dinner together. For the delegates, many of the most interesting conversations took place in the informal atmosphere of the banquet hall. During the first lunch, Superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District Richard Carranza and Wang Weiming, Director of the Education Department of Shanghai’s Huangpu District, spent much of the meal engaged in an in-depth conversation about how one goes about becoming a superintendent in their countries, after which Mr. Wang announced “sitting here talking with you over dinner, I feel like I’ve learned more than in several years of international forums and conferences”.

On April 2, the delegates also got up close and personal with Zhang Xupei, former Deputy Superintendent of the Zhejiang Provincial Department of Education. During a farewell lunch before the delegates departed for Suzhou, the delegates spent nearly 90 minutes sharing their own methods for confronting problems faced by educators around the world, such as how to ensure equal opportunity for students in disadvantaged areas, and how to best serve students with special needs. St. Paul’s Superintendent Valeria Silva, whose background is in special education and language acquisition, listened intently as Mr. Zhang gave a detailed overview of China’s policy for accommodating special needs students.

School visits

classroomEric Gordon of Cleveland Public Schools looks on during a poetry lesson at Suzhou Number 10 High SchoolAccording to Wisconsin Superintendant and Chief Academic Officer of the Ameson Foundation Randy Refsland, “no matter how high up they get, educators always feel most at home in the classroom”. For many of the delegates, the highlight of the trip was the chance to see Chinese schools and classrooms first hand. In total, the delegates visited five schools, Shanghai’s Xiangming High School, the Ningbo Foreign Affairs School, Nottingham University’s Ningbo Campus, Ningbo Huamao Foreign Languages School and AHSP partner school Suzhou Number 10 High School.

While at Suzhou Number 10, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Eric Gordon, had the chance to see things from a student’s point of view. Squatting beside the desk of a student, he followed along as the class studied a Tang Dynasty narrative poem, and watched in interest as the teacher pressed the students to use their imagination to understand the mentality of people in the Tang Dynasty, to grapple with the subtle imagery and symbolism of the poem, and to find their own voice by reading it aloud individually. After class he met with the teacher one on one to ask her more about her teaching methods. He later said that this experience “really made the trip” for him.

Wrapping it up

shanghai(L to R) Chancellor Kaya Henderson of DC Public Schools; Ameson Chief Representative Lica Zhang; Superintendent Barbara Jenkins of Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, FloridaAfter leaving Suzhou, the delegates had the chance to do some sightseeing in Nanjing and Beijing. At a farewell banquet for the delegates, Sean Zhang said that he hoped the delegates had had an informative trip, and he looked forward to further cooperation in the future.

The partnerships formed during this trip represent a great step forward in international educational cooperation between China and the United States. Again and again on this trip, people on both sides of the table voiced the idea that the ideal education system would be born when the strengths of the American education system and the Chinese one were fully combined. Perhaps Mr. Casserly said it best: “we have a great deal to teach each other about how to best teach our children.”

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