South Korea has selected St. Johnsbury Academy to help establish an international school on an island being developed as a huge educational hub for southeast Asia. The agreement was signed on Thursday at an on-campus ceremony attended by a delegation from Korea and officials from the Northeast Kingdom school.
Half of Jeju Island is being developed as what the Koreans are calling an "education city," with international schools, universities, and residential, commercial, and cultural facilities on about 900 scenic acres. The Republic of Korea is investing $75 million to build a grades 4-12 school modeled on St Johnsbury Academy, which will receive undisclosed annual royalty fees to help design the curriculum and recruit students and faculty. At the signing ceremony in St. Johnsbury, the Chairman of the Jeju Free International City Development Center, Jong-Il Byon, praised the Northeast Kingdom school for serving the academic and social needs of many different kinds of students.
"Together we will establish and operate St Johnsbury Academy-Jeju which will provide all the class educational opportunities to young people from throughout Asia," Dr. Byon said.
St. Johnsbury Academy is the first American secondary school to join this unprecedented alliance. Bradley Ashley, a former headmaster in Maine and Wisconsin, has been managing the negotiations for St. Johnsbury Academy as CEO of the Kingdom Development Company. He says Korean families are close, and sending their children to boarding schools in America can create too much separation and hardship.
"U.S. Education is highly valued, English language education is highly valued, but more and more the boarding market may see this push for quality programs in native countries rather than a constant flux of immigration to the US," Ashley said in an interview before the ceremony.
St. J. Academy headmaster Tom Lovett sees great potential for cultural exchange between the Northeast Kingdom and Jeju Island, and says he’s eager to share the Academy’s commitment to comprehensive, inclusive education, especially in arts and technology. He acknowledges that the plans for Jeju Island are ambitious. But he notes that the Korean government, not the Academy, is taking the financial risk, and he believes the new schools will attract students.
"So what we are exporting is intellectual property," Lovett said.
The school slated to open on Jeju island in 2015 will not be a franchise of St. Johnsbury Academy; it will be an independent school mirroring the Academy’s values and curriculum. Neither Lovett nor Ashley believe that it will siphon international students, who make up about about 20 percent of its enrollment, away from the Academy.