As part of the 2012-2013 China Administrator Shadowing Project, for five days in October, Principal Zhang Keqiang of Xi’an Middle School in the People’s Republic of China visited Parkrose School District and its environs.

The goal of this exchange program for school administrators — sponsored by the China Exchange Initiative and the Hebei Bureau of Education, in partnership with Confederation of Oregon School Administrators — is to establish a school-to school or district-to-district educational exchange.

When Xi’an Middle School Principal Zhang Keqiang, middle, visited Mr. Verhulst’s leadership class at Parkrose High School, former Assistant Principal Helen Jing was on hand to translate students’ questions for Zhang. Principal Jared Freeman, far right, was Zhang’s guide for the high school tour.

The initiative, funded by the Freeman Foundation, gives school principals and superintendents “a rare opportunity for professional development, personal growth, and inter-cultural friendships,” according to the COSA website.

Zhang’s stay was hosted by district Superintendent Karen Fischer Gray, who, in 2013 makes a reciprocal visit to his school. “I know I will learn many new things about education while I am there as well as learning more about the vast Chinese culture. Our hope is that in March 2014, we will exchange students with Principal Zhang’s school,” Gray said in an email.

During his stay, retired Parkrose High School Assistant Principal Helen Jing translated for Zhang, who does not speak English. Even though Zhang does not speak English, he said his students are fluent.

Zhang said he noticed many similarities between the Chinese and American education systems during his first trip to America, but said they differ in some ways. During class time in China, students do not get up and move around freely as they do here, he said. He also noticed students are more self-directed in America than China. With more than 60 students per class at Zhang’s school, instruction time is more structured he added.

Zhang Keqiang, principal at Xi’an Middle School in China, right, visits Mike Verhulst’s Leadership class on Halloween.

Arriving on a weekend, Zhang visited Multnomah Falls, had lunch on the Portland Spirit, toured the Chinese Gardens and Oregon Historical Center, and had dinner at the Portland Grill with Fischer Gray and guests.

For the rest of his stay, Zhang visited ACE Academy (Academy of Architecture, Construction and Engineering); Mt. Hood Community College , Russell Academy of Academic Achievement, Sacramento Elementary School, Parkrose Middle School and Parkrose High School.

He met with school administrators and staff, attended classes at Parkrose middle and high school, watched a Parkrose soccer game, toured IRCO’s Asian Family Center, attended an Oregon Symphony performance and putting the punctuation on his time in Parkrose, on Halloween, Zhang visited the Haunted Ghost Town at Rossi Farms.

“He loves our creativity. He got to see the choir, dance, the theater,” Gray said to high school leadership class students during a visit. “That creativity is very attractive to him. And, he wants to see more of that. We do have something we can share with one another, making us stronger.” Gray had the kids gasping when she announced the high school is looking at adding an elective Mandarin language course to next year’s curriculum, facilitating the establishment of a student exchange program between Parkrose and Xi’an.

Gray told students it would be, “at least a couple of years,” before a student exchange took place.

Fielding questions from leadership class students through Ying, Zhang said his school has a twenty-year history of exchange programs with Australia, Canada, Singapore, Korea and the United States. He invited the students to visit his school, but said they must learn basic Mandarin first, and when they do, he will be there waiting for them.

Xi’an home to world-famous Terracotta Army sculptures

Through Ying, Zhang said he is impressed with how orderly Americans are, that they follow rules and what he has not seen: motorists arguing publicly.

He remarked on the outstanding air quality in Portland compared to Xi’an’s. He said the climate in Xi’an is dry (average annual rainfall is just over 22 inches in Xi’an, as compared to Portland’s more than 38 inches), the terrain is flat compared to Oregon’s he added.

In an email, Fischer Gray said, “This was a great opportunity to share and show off Parkrose School District with someone from far away as well as to get insights into how other people have education in other parts of the world. Our guest was engaging, intelligent and polite. He especially loved our drama, music, and sports programs. He really loved Mr. English’s constitution class and how the students and teacher interacted in such an animated way. He also shared that he loved his visit to the ACE Academy.”

Xi’an Middle School has 5,000 students, 3,000 of them boarding at the school. It is a tuition-based, public middle school, accepting only the top 15 percentile of academic achievers. Located on 250 acres, Gray described Xi’an’s Middle School locale like “a college-campus setting” to students.

The city of Xi’an, with a population of eight million, is more than 3,100 years old. The capitol of Shaanxi Province, Xi’an is located in central China and is world famous for its Terra Cotta soldiers.

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