Meet the Head: BASIS International Bangkok

Elizabeth Thies, head of school at the new BASIS International School Bangkok, talks to WhichSchoolAdvisor about bringing one of the United States’ top-ranking education programmes to Thailand.
Meet the Head: BASIS International Bangkok
By Carli Allan
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BASIS International School Bangkok (BISB) is the only new international school to open in Thailand in 2019. Located on a purpose-built campus along Rama II Road, BISB is the latest addition to the BASIS network of 24 charter schools in the US and five international schools in China. The school opened in August for Pre-K through to Grade 5, and it plans to be an all-through school for students aged three to 18 years by 2026.

Here’s a school that stands out from the crowd of UK curriculum and International Baccalaureate programme schools in Thailand. BISB will offer the unique and rigorous BASIS curriculum, which focuses on maths, science and high-level learning in subjects such as logic, economics and Mandarin. It offers an education system that makes advanced, immersive coursework a requirement for all students; where teachers must all be subject-experts with a degree in the subject they are teaching; and where its youngest students have extra recess to boost attentiveness. It’s a model that is widely recognised in the US, where BASIS has captured four of the top five spots on US News and World Report’s annual ranking of America’s best schools.

BASIS is expanding into Thailand in response to the demand for places at its international schools in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, China – and the school says studies have revealed a “growing demand in Thailand for a more ambitious education system”.

So what can we expect from a school that promises to “raise the standards of student learning in Thailand to the highest international levels”? We spoke to BISB’s head of school Elizabeth Thies to find out…


The new BASIS campus 

BASIS International School Bangkok is part of the US-based network of BASIS schools, which all follow a unique, college-prep BASIS curriculum. How does this differ to the IB programme or UK system offered by most international schools in Thailand?

The BASIS curriculum focuses on building foundational skills in the primary years so that students are not intimidated by the advanced coursework that they will take in our higher grades. We are a university preparatory school and our end goal is to make sure that our students are able to get into top universities and be successful.

We want our students to be globally competitive. In order to accomplish this, we offer a wide range of advanced academics and add life skills such as time management and organization directly into our curriculum as well because research has shown that these skills are equally as important when it comes to success at the university level. Receiving a BASIS Curriculum School diploma means that our students have received one of the top levels of education in the world, but it also means that our students are prepared to be successful at university level and beyond.

BASIS schools compete with some of the best US schools in the annual rankings by US News & World Report and the Washington Post. How would you describe the tried and tested learning environment of a BASIS school?

At BASIS, we value every part of the learning process and provide an abundance of resources for our students so that we can build their self-confidence, encourage them to try new things, and support them if they come across an obstacle. At BASIS, we believe that it is important to build a student’s self-efficacy. In other words, we want students to look at challenges and believe, “I may not get this the first time but I know that I can do it.”

To build on that, we construct an academic environment where our students know that their teachers are always invested in their personal success. Additionally, this allows our teachers to build a relationship of trust with their students and create a learning environment where students are not afraid to take risks.

You have recruited teachers from all over the world, including the US, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Poland, New Zealand, Australia, Jakarta, Doha, and Thailand to be a part of our team. How have you been guided by the BASIS philosophy in your recruitment drive?

We have subject expert teachers in every class. That is to say, each teacher has a degree in the area that they teach so I never need to worry about the content of the lessons. Rather, I can focus on how to support both my teachers and my students beyond the instruction.

The first BASIS campus was established in Tucson, Arizona in 1998. At that time, the state standards were being lowered for fear that Arizona students could not meet the standards that were in place. However, our founders, Dr. Michael and Olga Block looked at education in a completely different way. They believed in the potential of children and therefore, they decided to open a school that had higher standards than most schools.

They realised the power of the teacher in this equation so they hired teachers that were experts in the field. They were only willing to hire teachers who had a degree in the area that they wanted to teach. They realised that passionate teachers led to passionate students, and so they opened a school where the dedication and passion of the teachers coupled with an intentionally structured curriculum led to student success.

Read our review of BASIS, including information about fees and admissions, here.

What do you bring to BISB as the founding principal?

I began my career with BASIS Curriculum Schools as a teacher and the head soccer coach, and coaching has probably been the skill that I use the most often in my role as the head of school. As the head of school, I want to create a school environment where everyone is invested in the school and one another’s success. We all have to buy in. That begins with my core philosophies and then moves into how I can motivate and support my students, parents, teachers, staff and faculty to perform at their absolute best every day.

It is my responsibility to make sure that our students leave our school as better students and better people. Therefore, I like to emphasize the teacher’s role in educating as well as character building with young people. Moreover, I realise that the teachers are the key ingredient to our success. So, I try to be in classrooms as much as possible and create systems and resources to support my teachers and students whenever necessary. Everyone needs to feel empowered on a daily basis. I recognise and appreciate the fact that that begins with me and the tone that I set for the school.

BASIS schools have a reputation for their demanding maths and science-focused curriculum, both in the US and in China. Can we expect to see the same in the classrooms of BISB?

BASIS Curriculum Schools have always had a strong maths and science programme. We begin teaching the three sciences (biology, chemistry and physics) separately in Grade 6 in order to build strong foundational skills and prepare our students for advanced course work in high school. In maths, we ensure that our curriculum spirals so that concepts are revisited each year and students build strong foundations in the elementary years in preparation for advanced coursework in maths at the high school level as well.

Our engineering programme begins in the Kinder years and continues through high school. I love this part of the curriculum because there are so many foundational skills that we can teach through simple play-based learning and project-based problem solving. We find that younger students are brilliant engineers.

At the high school level, we will have a state-of-the-art engineering facility. In our Engineering Design Kitchen, students will have the ability to go through the entire engineering process from design to production. Our investors did a lot of research before designing this space and it is comparable to what they would get the opportunity to use at major universities in the United States. I can’t wait to see the things that our students will create in that space!

How do the facilities at BASIS compare to other international schools in Bangkok?

This school is specifically built to meet the needs of our curriculum! The campus is on 22 rai of land and it seems like every inch was designed with some type of learning or community building in mind. We will have three soccer fields, a 25m competition ready pool, basketball courts, a running track, science labs that are designed specifically for each individual science course, art studios, band rehearsal rooms, dance studios, a theatre in the round, community learning spaces, and so much more.

I believe that this is one of the nicest facilities that we have in the BASIS Curriculum Schools network and it will be a beautiful addition to Bangkok.

BISB is the only new international school to open in Thailand in 2019, but five schools have opened in the past three years and both NLCS and King’s College are due to open in 2020. What gives BISB the advantage in Bangkok’s increasingly competitive international schools market?

We are one of very few schools south of the river. This means that we had the ability to build a large open campus on 22 rai of land and experiment with different learning spaces throughout this build. I don’t think that we would have had the opportunity to build this state-of-the-art campus in the downtown area due to space limitations. BASIS International School Bangkok is unique in that our school will be a key part of the growth of our surrounding area and this is an area that is rapidly growing. Bang Khun Thian is a rapidly growing area and I am excited that our school gets to be a part of building this community.

I know that the international school market is growing and so parents are doing a lot of research before they select a school. That actually gives us an advantage because we are not a new school that is coming to Bangkok with no support. BASIS Curriculum Schools have been in existence for many years and, as a member of that network, we have several colleagues that will be instrumental in supporting our growth.

And finally… what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I am so lucky to have been selected as the head of school at BASIS International School Bangkok because it means that my family and I get to live in Thailand and eat Thai food! This country is so beautiful and the culture is so rich. In my spare time, I am just trying to learn as much as I can and experience as many Thai traditions as possible. I am determined to learn Thai as well and that has been a lot of fun for me.

My co-workers have been wonderful and I have met so many kind and helpful people so far. I am really honoured by the fact that I have the opportunity to be a part of building this incredible school in this amazing city.

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