Niskayuna considers partnership with Beijing school

Niskayuna Central School District Superintendent Dr. Cosimo Tangorra Jr., seen here at the teacher pep rally on August 31, 2015, will travel to China later this fall to meet with leaders of Beijing-based Wisdom International Education Group, exploring a partnership with the private Chinese school that wants to model its curriculum on the Niskayuna district as it grows to serve older students.Niskayuna Central School District Superintendent Dr. Cosimo Tangorra Jr., seen here at the teacher pep rally on August 31, 2015, will travel to China later this fall to meet with leaders of Beijing-based Wisdom International Education Group, exploring a partnership with the private Chinese school that wants to model its curriculum on the Niskayuna district as it grows to serve older students.

NISKAYUNA — The Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education resolved Tuesday to explore further a partnership between the district and a Montessori school in Beijing.

Wisdom International Education Group, which manages the Montessori school, wants to expand its elementary school and create a secondary education program, with Niskayuna’s help.

Wisdom approached the district with the idea of a partnership earlier this year. Representatives from Wisdom visited Niskayuna twice and hosted Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra and the director of Niskayuna’s international student program, Ed Alston, on a tour of the school.

The secondary school building is already being constructed in Beijing, which Tangorra believes is a sign of how serious Wisdom is in securing this partnership.

“If it’s not with Niskayuna, it will be with someone else. But they really want it to be with us,” Tangorra said at the board meeting.

Niskayuna is frequently rated one of the top schools in the area, and as Tangorra pointed out, the district has had a National Merit Scholar every year since 1955.

Exactly how the partnership would work is still being discussed, as it could mean substantial changes for some of the district’s teachers and administrators.

Wisdom is looking for access to the district’s middle- and high-school curriculums. It’s also hoping to host Niskayuna teachers and faculty for a year to help develop their own curriculums and provide professional development. Wisdom is also calling for assistance with recruiting teachers for the school.

Parting with any number of teachers and administrators for a year, however, might not be ideal for the district.

“ . . . they realize that we have a number of teachers that we don’t want to part ways with,” Tangorra said.

Thus, Wisdom is open to hosting any recently retired teachers from the Niskayuna district or any recent college graduates that the district would want to hire. Even with that possibility, teacher contracts would need to be re-evaluated.

If any current teachers at Niskayuna were willing to head to Beijing for the year — and Tangorra said some are already lining up to go — there is a possibility that could disrupt their retirement plans.

Another factor the board questioned was “the get” for the district.

Niskayuna would be able to expand its International Scholars Program, as Wisdom has said that it would eventually want to host Niskayuna students in an exchange program.

Tangorra also said he’d like to start connecting the elementary education classrooms in the district with those in Beijing in the coming months through technology, such as social media.

That would allow the students to develop a working relationship before reaching secondary levels of education, where an exchange program becomes available.

The partnership would support the school’s strategic plan in the long run, said Tangorra.

“The important part is that they will incur all costs … Resources are not an issue for the International Education Group,” he said.

Wisdom would also allow any Niskayuna teachers’ children to attend the Montessori school free of charge.

“We both have expertise that we could share that would be mutually beneficial,” Tangorra said, mentioning that the partnership could mean professional development for Niskayuna teachers and administrators, as well as Wisdom’s teachers and administrators.

“They have an aggressive timeline … to have us have something in place by Jan. 31. I explained to them that we move at a different pace,” Tangorra said.

The board agreed the timeline is not realistic and said they’d like to do more research on the Wisdom organization.

Some board members suggested calling the embassy in Beijing to inquire about the organization. Others, like Nicki Foley, have contacts in Beijing that they could call on for information.

Tangorra agreed with the board’s concern and said the district has also been in contact with a school in Texas that has also partnered with the Beijing school.

“They had nothing but glowing things to say,” Tangorra said of the Texas school’s experience.

The district is also in contact with a former teacher from the Montessori school who recently retired and is living in Ontario. The former teacher will visit Niskayuna in March to discuss Wisdom and working there.

Moving forward, Tangorra plans to put together a team of people to determine the best next steps to take.

“We have to address the obstacles that I mentioned,” he said.

Then, an agreement between the schools will be created and presented to the board for its consideration.