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School chief's cure for sagging enrollment: Import students

NEWCOMB - Faced with a 40 percent decline in enrollment since 1970 and proposed district consolidation, rural Adirondack school districts are pursuing novel approaches to maintain their own viability. For Newcomb Central Superintendent Skip Hults, building a new student body featuring transplanted students is the future for aging local communities.

"When a school closes, a community soon follows," Hults said this week. "Urban schools are often overcrowded and why not send these kids up here to get one of the finest educations in the state - a North Country education."

Hults is currently seeking funding from the state Department of Education to build dormitories that could house urban students and foreign exchange students which would supplement the ever-declining local enrollment.

"I think the way for us to survive is to actively grow our schools," Hults said. "I have no problem with consolidation of services, but consolidation of the districts themselves would devastate the local towns."

Over the last three years, NCS has hosted 12 foreign exchange students who not only add to the overall enrollment figures, but also the learning experience of each student, Hults said.

"The question with international students was can they learn together," he said. "What we are finding is, yes they can."

The NCS foreign exchange students play sports, participate in plays and take part in numerous extracurricular activities.

Hults said that building a mutual understanding of differing cultures is an extremely important part of a curriculum.

For several years, NCS has been offering classes in the Mandarin language.

"Considering the Chinese population, economy and culture, their impact on the world is huge," Hults said. "An understanding of their culture and beliefs is extremely important to all Americans - even in the Adirondacks."

Last month, Hults spent 10 days in China with seven other educators.

"We didn't just go to the typical tourist destinations," Hults said. "We spent the bulk of the time in rural communities and schools."

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