x

Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Dubai head teacher describes challenge of running a school when the building isn't ready

Problems from plumbing to finding quality staff must be tackled before a school can open its doors

Students take part in a science class at Dubai International Academy Al Barsha. Reem Mohammed/The National
Students take part in a science class at Dubai International Academy Al Barsha. Reem Mohammed/The National

Getting ready for the first day of term isn't just a challenge for pupils - it can pose a host of problems for the schools themselves.

From recruiting the right calibre of staff and winning the trust of parents, to dealing with unforseen construction issues, the 13 new schools swinging open their doors in the emirate have had plenty of hurdles to overcome.

Heads of new schools in Dubai have opened up about the unique challenges of getting facilities up-and-running when September calls.

Education leaders at Fairgreen International School have focused on the vital task of recruiting top quality staff while waiting for their permanent base to be complete.

The school is currently teaching pupils at a sister site as its campus in Sustainable City is not due to be ready to move into until early December.

There have been plumbing issues to deal with a the under-construction building, but that hasn't stopped the school from pressing ahead with it plans for the academic year.

Even without a permanent roof over their heads, however, staff haven't been deterred in their efforts to attract pupils to the school.

"Part of our school was ready so when families wanted to come to see us, we were there and made sure we spoke with them," said Graeme Scott, director at the school.

The school building will be ready by November or December. Lessons are currently being held at their sister school, Dunecrest American School, at present.

For Mr Scott, the priority has been on people rather than bricks and mortar, with a rigorous recruitment process taking place.

"We are fussy about appointing people who understand what we mean by amazing learning," he said.

The school interviewed 400 people and employed 48.

Bill Delbrugge, director at Dunecrest American School, said the constant change in plans has proven a huge challenge for his staff, though they have learned to remain positive.

“Challenges are great opportunities and through these challenges, our staff has learned to be very flexible," said, Mr Delbrugge.

Parents are often unsure if a school will be completed and ready in time for the school year to start.

"Recruiting people was a challenge initially as it was hard to convince families we would open on time. In the last few weeks, when we have been ready, we have seen people coming in," said Mr Delbrugge.

"In the future, recruiting will be much easier as we will have a finished facility. now that the building is finished we are seeing more traffic."

________________

Read more:

Tough times ahead for UAE schools, education experts warn

Stability, quality of teachers and facilities are key challenges this UAE term

High cost of education is ‘biggest challenge faced by parents’

Private schools face fight to survive amid competition

________________

The school is receiving international pupils with about 50 per cent coming from the US or Canada. Another 20 per cent of the pupils are from Egypt.

Joanne Wells, principal at South View School said winning the trust of parents, who have tried-and-tested education options available, is important.

"One of the biggest things for a parent is trust. When you don’t have a track record as a school, that is harder," she said.

"Now that the school is open and running, people are happy to admit their children."

Director Bill Delbrugge shows off the facilities at Dunecrest American School. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Director Bill Delbrugge shows off the facilities at Dunecrest American School. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The educators believes that for schools to retain parents' trust, it is essential they keep their promises and follow through on them.

David Hicks, principal at Dubai International Academy Al Barsha, believes that whenever you open a new school, parents are excited but also concerned about whether the campus will be ready on time.

"When opening a new school, our biggest challenge has been everybody coming together afresh," he said.

Dubai International Academy already has a school in Emirates Hill.

"At DIA Al Barsha, we don’t have a legacy of pupils passing from one grade to another. We have to make sure the pupils feel safe and welcomed."

The school publicised coffee morning and meet and greets as these events gave them the opportunity to listen to parents' concerns and provide feedback.

For a new school, gaining parents' trust is essential.

"A lot of it is built around being open and honest. Have an open door policy and make sure there isn't a disconnect.

"If parents know I, or my team, are there to listen to them and respond appropriately, we can develop a real partnership."