Lumenus ends plans to place foreign students at Valparaiso High School
BY JAMES D. WOLF Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent February 10, 2014 2:58PM
The foreign student program that would have put 25 to 30 Chinese and Ecuadorian students in Valparaiso High School as tuition-paying students has ended its arrangement with Valparaiso Community Schools. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: February 11, 2014 11:30AM
VALPARAISO — The foreign student program that would have put 25 to 30 Chinese and Ecuadorian students in Valparaiso High School as tuition-paying students has ended its arrangement with Valparaiso Community Schools.
Erik Froelich, president of Lumenus USA, issued a press release Monday morning announcing the withdrawal due to what he called as misunderstandings about how the program would work and how it would affect students and staff.
Mayor Jon Costas is one of the owners of Lumenus.
“As a result of these misunderstandings and due to the public concern over the plan proposed by Lumenus and adopted by the school board at its last meeting, Lumenus is withdrawing it’s request for a partnership with the school corporation for the admission of up to 30 international students.” Froelich stated in the release.
In an interview later Monday, Froelich said Lumenus also won’t partner with Portage Community Schools to put students into public schools as part of their cultural acclimation and learning of English as a Second Language.
The school will “continue with our current programs, which consist of ESL and Life Success Skills training for international students transitioning into college as well as special programs such as the Go Teacher program which is sponsored by the Ecuadorean government for teachers of ESL.”
Christopher Pupillo, one of the parents who spoke out against the Valparaiso schools taking on Lumenus, saw the release online and said it raised questions, such as how Lumenus planned to integrate its ESL staff into the school system, how the Franklin Covey “7 Habits of Highly Effective College Students” program might fit in and how students could assimilate and acclimate in one school year.
He said the problem lies with the school board and their lack of communication before voting.
“A failed process will always lead to a failed outcome, and this continued lack of transparency and unwillingness to engage honestly and openly with the community is an ongoing problem. It precedes Lumenus, and it’s just going to keep going on unless there’s change,” Pupillo said.
If the administration were serious about diversity and cultural exchange, it could revive its international baccalaureate program, expand the existing exchange student program and offer Chinese language classes.
Pupillo has been an advocate of the school offering Mandarin for years, first beginning talks about that with then-Superintendent Michael Benway.
The Confucius Institute at Valparaiso University has already offered to help with Chinese language classes, Pupillo said.
Costas, who owns 11 percent of Lumenus and is on its board, said the board decided to withdraw because “this has become a lightning rod” due to misinformation, and that’s interfering with school business.
“It’s taking away from the school board focusing on much more important matters, such as the search for the new superintendent and the facilities (work),” Costas said.
He said the foreign students would not affect class rank and would not take AP class spots from other students.
“These weren’t communicated very well, and we don’t know why,” Costas said. “To be revisited again, there must be a better process.”
Although Lumenus and the schools can reconsider a partnership, it won’t happen right now, Costas said.
Lumenus does not need to place students to continue its work, Costas said. But, he said, he, superintendent Michael Berta and the school board saw advantages and value in placing them at the high school.
Froelich remains open to possible partnerships with the school corporation.
“Should Lumenus desire to explore this program with the school board in the future, it would do so with opportunity for more public input and debate,” he stated.
When the board approved the partnership Jan. 23, parents spoke against it because it had not been before the public before and there had been no previous discussion.
At Thursday’s special board meeting to get public input on the next superintendent, the majority of the roughly 250 people made it known they wanted to discuss Lumenus.
Many spoke out against allowing a private company to use the tax-funded schools to make a profit.
Berta said Monday he had heard rumors about Lumenus reconsidering, but found out only when he saw the press release at 11 a.m.
“There’s nothing left to be done,” Berta said.