GEMS Nations Academy, the GEMS Group's most ambitious education project to date, is set to be merged with DAA after only one academic year in operation. A nod is made to Nations in the move however. In the new location Dubai American Academy becomes Dubai American Academy - Nations Campus.
The news was revealed in a letter to DAA and Nations parents on Wednesday.
GEMS Nations Academy, launched in September 2016, was billed as 'beyond outstanding'. The school was certainly one of the most innovative global education projects to date and the most expensive school in the UAE in terms of staffing, infrastructure, and fees.
Currently the fees at Nations range from AED 84,000 for KG and rise up to AED 124,000 for Grades 9 and 10. The market talked however of significant discounts being offered. This would have been unsurprising. Increasingly the norm in the competitive premium sector, at least for new schools, Dubai's education sector as a whole has moved to being far more balanced between school supply and parent demand.
Ultimately however this was to be a school where money was no object. Every aspect of Nations Academy is futuristic, from the coding, robotics and programming classes to the recruitment and staffing. According to Executive Director and Board Member of GEMS Education, Dino Varkey, the school was to be "a new benchmark", a "culmination of the group's aspirations and ambitions" and a "crucible of leadership".
GEMS Education recruited one of the most prominent educators in the world, ex-Sidwell Friends superintendent Tom Farquhar as principal at Nations and utilised the expensive co-teacher/lead teacher model in the UAE, which saw two highly-qualified teachers per classroom.
The Nations Academy plot itself boasts premium-plus facilities including; a 400 meter track; 52-meter Swimming Pool with ability to split into two 25-meter pools; learner pool; Main Sports Hall equal to 3 full-size basketball courts with retractable seating; tennis courts; Soccer/Football fields; Elementary Sports Hall and an indoor running track.
On Wednesday GEMS Education management sent a letter to parents at Dubai American Academy saying the group would move DAA students and staff out of the school's 10 year old campus and into the one-year-old GEMS Nations Academy campus from September 2017.
The letter states:
"The new campus will provide premium infrastructure and benefits that will match the very highest of international standards, whilst retaining our outstanding heritage, values and tradition."
It went on to say, "GEMS Nations Academy will be integrated into DAA with its focus on cutting-edge robotics, coding and technology, this will be a powerful combination."
"In addition, the entire teaching staff at Dubai American Academy will transfer to the new school under the leadership of Tammy Murphy, our new superintendent."
In the letter to Nations parents, Dino Varkey said:
"With a heavy heart we must also share the news that our Founding head, Tom Farquhar, has taken the decision to return to retirement at the end of this academic year... We thank Tom for all that he has done here at Nations."
The letter went on to highlight to DAA parents that fees at the school would increase at the maximum allowed in accordance with DAA's Outstanding rating, set around 4.8 percent, depending on KHDA approval. At Nations however Varkey noted those paying full fees would see reductions from 73% for KG1 to 32% for Grades 9 and 10.
While parents who bought into Dino Varkey and Tom Farquhar's vision must be disappointed even if the school group emphasises this is a merger not a closure, any way you look at it for parents at Dubai American Academy the news must be significant.
After a year of uncertainty, with the departure after only four years of principal Jim Hardin in June, news of both a new principal and brand-new state-of-the-art campus, will allay any fears over the immediate future for the school. Already the group's, and the UAE's only Outstanding rated US curriculum school, it has just been gifted 'beyond outstanding' buildings and facilities.
Even for Nations parents Varkey was keen to emphasise the positive in the merger:
"With DAA coming to Nations campus we would be able to offer more opportunities for students – more course offerings, more specialist teaching, enhanced college counselling advice, more sports teams and more ECAs – and more value for money as the tuition fees for 2017/18 and beyond will follow the DAA fee structure. This option would provide a vibrant, sustainable future for our Nations families."