By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — In an era of tight budgets, officials have to use innovative measures just to keep up.
Which explains Superintendent Joseph Mastrocola’s new plan — charge the students.
No, that doesn’t mean new bills for Peabody parents. Instead, Mastrocola hopes to contract students from foreign countries to attend Peabody High School through an organization called Educatius International. It’s a policy he put in place via the same outfit as superintendent at Groton-Dunstable before leaving that system to return here.
The influx of students would perform a double benefit, he said. “It allows us to bring a more global focus to our high school” in addition to the much-needed revenue.
In other words, Peabody students would have an opportunity to learn about the culture and lifestyles of their new classmates, an important plus in a 21st century of shrinking distances.
At Groton-Dunstable, Matsrocola said, the policy reaped up to $175,000.
“Being a school administrator is about entrepreneurship and being able to find alternate sources of revenue,” he said.
The students here could be expected to pay up to $12,000 per year.
The School Committee heard from Mastrocola and a representative of Educatius International at the last meeting before voting to take preliminary steps toward adopting the plan.
Member Dave McGeney was not at the meeting, but he likes what he’s heard about the policy.
“It’s good,” he said, before noting, “Peabody schools are usually late to the game on a lot of these things.”
In this case, the city would be on the cutting edge.
“I like these kinds of innovative ideas,” McGeney said.
Steven Jenkins, a former superintendent in Winthrop, represented Boston-based Educatius International before the committee. He explains that the company helps schools across the country connect with students from places as far-flung as Brazil, Italy, Germany and Thailand. As many as 20 schools in Massachusetts currently participate. Most active is Arlington High School, with 24 placements.
The students come on F1 visas obtained through the Department of Homeland Security, Jenkins said. These visas allow at most a one-year stay. Host families are established — after Educatius makes careful background checks — and compensated with a stipend from the student’s parents. A single room containing a bed, dresser and desk must be provided.
In some cases, two students are allowed per room.
“But two students who speak the same language are not allowed to share the same room,” Jenkins said.
The reason for this is so the students will be required to communicate in English, thus learning the language.
One of the attractions for foreign students, Jenkins said, is easier access to American colleges and universities after a person has demonstrated an ability to adjust to life here.
Some might wonder why foreign students would be attracted to Peabody High School, which is not without problems.
“Peabody High School graduates students every year who go on to attend the best colleges and universities in the country,” McGeney said.
“A lot of people would think,” Jenkins said, “that there isn’t any school in the United States that doesn’t have problems. Peabody High School has more good things about it than not.”
Both Jenkins and Mastrocola express the hope that the new program will be in place before the opening of school in September 2013. The superintendent, however, cautions that much remains to happen first.