Military School Woos Chinese Students

Jie Zhang at the New York Military Academy. (Photo via World Journal)

Jie Zhang at the New York Military Academy. (Photo via World Journal)

World Journal wrote recently about New York Military Academy [in Cornwall-on-Hudson] which was purchased by a Chinese investor and recently named a new Chinese superintendent, Jie Zhang, formerly the principal of Stuyvesant High School in New York. An excerpt from the main story, written by Yingzi Yin and translated by Rong Xiaoqing, follows:

New York Military Academy, a private boarding school that has a history of more than a hundred years, was acquired by a Chinese investor last year after it filed for bankruptcy due to declining applications. Now it is getting a Chinese superintendent who will be working on transforming the 100-year-old institution by, among other things, attracting more Chinese Americans and students from China for the school.

The Research Center on Natural Conservation, a nonprofit run by Vincent Tianquan Mo, chair of SouFun, a major real estate listing and search website in China, purchased the struggling military school last September for $16 million. The new owner decided to retain the middle school. Jie Zhang, former principal of Stuyvesant High School, was named the superintendent in July. The school held an open day recently and many prospective Chinese students attended.

Zhang said she had reached the age in which she could retire from the Department of Education with a pension last year, and she said Mo showed his sincerity in the invitation. So for her the opportunity to switch gears from the public sector to the private sector happened at the right time with the right person.

In a second World Journal story, also written by Yingzi Yin and translated by Rong Xiaoqing, excerpted below, Zhang spoke about her experiences at Stuyvesant:

Zhang, who had been working in public schools for 28 years, said she has had a history of taking new jobs during critical times. Graduating from Stony Brook University in the 1980s, Zhang worked as a teacher, a deputy principal and then a principal at the Rikers Island Academy, Forest Hills High School and Queens High School for the Sciences at York College respectively. In 2012, she was appointed as the principal of Stuyvesant amid the cheating scandal that tarnished the school’s reputation. As the first Asian principal of the prestigious school, Zhang worked together with teachers and students to clean the name of the school. In 2016, the school was listed as no. 1 on the list of 25 best public schools in the U.S. by the educational website Niche.

“Working at a private school is different from working at a public one. The latter is more about maintaining, and the former feels like you have to be an entrepreneur,” said Zhang. She explained that public schools are restrained by the union and the system, and many times the principal only needs to make sure things are running on track. “Schools like Stuyvesant have no problems in getting applicants. The principal is not likely to be fired unless you do something really outrageous,” said Zhang.

The differences between the two systems were what attracted Zhang to the new field. “I saw more possibilities (in the private school). This is the first time in my entire career in education that I feel I might fail,” said Zhang. But this feeling offers her greater energy and makes her more determined to bring the school to a better future. “I don’t mind working hard and I don’t know what fear is. When I recruit staff, I like to choose those who seem like they won’t mind doing things differently,” Zhang said.

The decision of transferring to the private sector is also due to Zhang’s own personality. “My friends said I am the kind of person who would still go up into the mountains even when they know there are tigers. But indeed, I never see a tiger. That’s why I am not afraid,” said Zhang.

The first story resumes below:

With a Chinese-speaking superintendent, a Chinese investor, and a military style of operation, Zhang believes the school is enticing to Chinese-American students and international students from China whose parents are likely to expect higher standards and stricter discipline in their children’s education. She said although the school was traditionally a military school, almost all military schools in the U.S. have been trying to transform into academic schools in the recent years. Their education model – to integrate military discipline into academic education to help students form good habits and improve their comprehensive quality – works well on children who don’t like to work hard, are obsessed with computer games or don’t finish their homework.

Zhang said many reasons caused the decline of the historic New York Military Academy. The lack of applicants, outdated facilities, and the deteriorating education quality worked together to send the school into a vicious cycle. She hopes that by developing new sources of students and updating the facilities, more parents and students who have the same expectations could join the school and turn it around.

In its heyday, the school had 600 students. Now it has well below that number and most are American-born students. Zhang said her priority is to improve the boarding facilities and to get more applicants by promoting the school to the locals as well as at recruiting events in China and other foreign countries. She expects to get the total students to 100 after the application season in spring 2017. Les McMillen, admissions coordinator of the school, said the school offers curriculums of 7th grade to 12th grade including English, history, math, science and technology among others. He said they won’t use academic scores as the threshold when making admission decisions, but will look more into comprehensive quality and special skills of the students. Also, the school customizes curriculums for each student based on his or her personal level. All subjects have regular courses and AP courses.

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