The district is considering creating a boarding school program next academic year for Chinese students, allowing them to pay to attend Ashland High School and live in Southern Oregon University dorms.

The district is considering creating a boarding school program next academic year for Chinese students, allowing them to pay to attend Ashland High School and live in Southern Oregon University dorms.

In December, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro will present the School Board with the boarding school proposal, which mimics a program Medford's St. Mary's School started this fall, she told the board Monday.

"We're very excited about it and hope it can work out," she said. "Having kids from another country here would be an incredible benefit to our students."

If the board approves the program, Ashland would be the first public school district in the state to have a boarding school program for international students, Di Chiro said.

A handful of public schools nationwide have similar programs, she said.

Several board members voiced support for the proposal Monday.

"I think Chinese students would bring a lot to our valley," said Vice Chairwoman Heidi Parker. "Just having the ability to interact with another culture is an amazing opportunity."

If the board endorses the program, the district would recruit between 20 and 25 Chinese students, who are about 16 years old, to attend Ashland High School next academic year, Di Chiro said.

The cost of the program hasn't been determined but could be as much as $30,000 per student per year, Di Chiro said. St. Mary's, a private Catholic school, charges about $40,000 per student, she said.

It is legal for a public school district to run a boarding school program, Di Chiro said.

"There's no legal reason why we cannot have students from China here on visas living in a boarding situation at SOU and paying tuition to attend Ashland High School," she said.

The revenue from the program could be a boon to the cash-strapped district, which has faced budget cuts since the recession reduced state funding for education. The district could use the money to implement the high school redesign, second-language instruction at the district's elementary schools or a number of other proposals, Di Chiro said.

SOU has confirmed that the Chinese students would be able to stay in one of its dorms that it is no longer using for university students, Di Chiro said. Resident assistants and possibly an Ashland High School teacher would live with the students.

The students would be allowed to stay for one year, per visa requirements, Di Chiro said. It's possible they could spend another year attending St. Mary's and graduate from that school, she said.

The district might also lobby to change the federal visa requirements, to enable the Chinese students to stay at Ashland High School for two years and graduate, she said.

Most of the students who would attend the boarding school program would be from wealthy families and would be seeking entrance to American universities, upon graduating from high school, Di Chiro said. Attending a boarding school program in the U.S. is seen by Chinese parents as a way for their students to improve their English and their chances at being accepted to American universities, she said.

To implement the program at Ashland High School, the district would need to hire at least a part-time coordinator and part-time English as a Second Language teacher, Di Chiro said.

She said the program would especially benefit Ashland students in the high school's Mandarin Chinese classes, which began this year through a program funded by the Chinese government and the district.

St. Mary's has led the region in providing Chinese educational opportunities. Principal Frank Phillips, who has many connections to educational institutions in China, told Di Chiro he doesn't think it would be difficult to recruit students to attend Ashland High School, she told the board.

"He feels we could attract students," she said.

If the board approves the program, the district would contract with a Chinese recruiting firm in January to sign students up for the following academic year, she said.

At Monday's meeting, board member Keith Massie said he supported the proposal but wanted to see a breakdown of the program's estimated expenses and revenues before voting in December.

"My only concern is I wouldn't want to lose money in the first year," he said.

Di Chiro said Tuesday that the district will move forward with the program only if it's financially viable.

"At this point we're still exploring our options," she said. "We need to make sure that it financially works out for us."

The board will vote on the proposal at its Dec. 13 meeting, held at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

Board members also could decide to wait until fall 2012 to implement the program, Di Chiro said.

"If for some reason we decide not to go forward at this time, we might consider it for the year after," she said.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.