PARIS — Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School is resurrecting a decades-old tradition this spring to allow 20 students to visit their “sister school” in Jinhua, China, with all expenses paid by their host.

The exchange program with Zhejiang Normal University Middle School began in 2002 and has included teachers from China residing in Oxford Hills to teach Mandarin classes to high school students.

The program was interrupted and fizzled during the pandemic, but officials from Jinhua recently reopened a dialogue with Principal Paul Bickford and teacher Craig Blanchard, who has been its lead coordinator since its inception.

Bickford told the Maine School Administrative District 17 board of directors Monday night that when he told his counterparts in China he and Blanchard could not restart the exchange until it is budgeted in the future, they pressed that they wanted to host Oxford Hills students as soon as possible and offered to fund the entire trip.

Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Principal Paul Bickford speaks Monday night to Maine School Administrative District 17 directors at the Central Office in Paris about a program to improve student attendance. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

Paris Director Christie Wessels pointed out that the U.S. State Department has advisories issued about travel to mainland China.

Board Vice Chairwoman Kitty Winship of Waterford was a student who made the trip in 2002 with Blanchard. Acknowledging that any international travel comes with risks, she said for her, visiting China was life-changing and for 20 students to receive an all-expenses-paid invitation is the opportunity of a lifetime.


The board approved the trip, with Wessels and fellow Paris directors Doreen Simmons and Chairman Troy Ripley opposed.

Bickford also gave an update on the high school’s implementation of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program. Students will attend a schoolwide assembly Feb. 15, the first to be scheduled at the high school.

“Not many high schools are doing this,” he said. “We see it as a system of acknowledging when students get things right. We’re implementing this as a philosophy, and communication with them is key.”

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports is a major component of efforts to improve student attendance. Echoing other district principals’ recent presentations, Bickford said that during the 2022-23 school year 48% of high school students were chronically absent, but this year the rate is at 32%.

He said the most recent behavior report showing 30 substance-related suspensions at the high school has created the appearance of a spike in behavioral issues, but is actually the result of new vape detectors in the building. He expects the detectors will soon deter instances involving tobacco and marijuana use.

Steve Ciembroniewicz, assistant superintendent of Maine School Administrative District 17, addresses the board of directors Monday night at the Central Office in Paris about safety priorities under consideration. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Assistant Superintendent Steve Ciembroniewicz presented five priorities the district’s Safety Committee has developed:


• Committing $1.5 million over the next several years to upgrade security technology in buildings and buses.

• Expanding emergency lessons and drills to all elementary schools during the 2024-25 academic year.

• Replacing aging exterior doors for more security.

• Addressing traffic hazards around the parking lot and access roads.

• Developing responsibilities for a dedicated safety director position.

The Safety Committee includes educators, administrators and department directors, school board directors, school resource officer, active and retired public safety officials and the Oxford County Emergency Management Agency deputy director.

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