We are greeted in one of the school’s four entrances by Executive Principal, Karen McCord. To say that Mrs McCord has great energy would be something of an understatement; she is a school leader who is truly fizzing with energy! The Australian native is impressive: warm, funny and engagingly excited about opening her new school in her brand-new home town. Mrs McCord has taken to Dubai already, telling us that “It’s amazing! Even after the first week, I just loved it!”. Mrs McCord will soon be joined in Dubai by her 15-year-old son, who shares her excitement and enthusiasm for this next adventure. To find out more about Mrs McCord and her plans for the Australian International School Dubai, read our Meet the Principal interview.
Our first impression of the school is that it is very much complete, and just in need of furniture and resources before the first students arrive. Our second impression is that this is a school that has been built with incredible attention to detail, as well as an eye for great quality fixtures and fittings. Even in what we later discover is not, in fact, the school’s main entrance (more on that later!), we enter via a stunning reception area complete with a marble floor that would not be out of place in a Dubai hotel!
As we tour the school, we are pleased to discover that the high-quality flourishes are not limited to the ‘outward’ facing elements of this school. The first student area we see is a vast indoor play area, designed especially for the early years department and already kitted out with play equipment and toys. After this, we move into the first ‘wing’ of the school, which will be for the youngest children. Again, what we find is an incredible amount of space. The classrooms are amongst the very largest we have seen in any Dubai school. Early years classrooms will share a bathroom, and again, we see that ‘hotel’ styling is very much evident. Lucky children!
The ground floor classrooms will have direct access onto the outdoor play areas. At the time of our visit, these play areas are not yet complete – a task that Mrs McCord is delighted the school’s owners has left for her to place her own “stamp” on!
“The owners really want the staff to own the vision of the school” commented Mrs McCord.
“I’ve already had playground designers here to quote and one of the first jobs will be to create a shaded play area for the youngest children. I’m very hands on when it comes to design, as I believe that children need spaces that a beautiful, light and bright if they are going to get the best from their school”.
That intention for “light and bright” spaces is apparent throughout the school. The 90 classrooms are spread between different wings for each year group and each one that we see comes with floor to ceiling windows. Mrs McCord intends to fill the walls of the school with inspirational and motivational quotes and the corridors will be brought to life by large bays of greenery at regular intervals.
One change that Mrs McCord has made since her arrival is exchanging the solid classroom doors for doors with glass panels. “Again, it’s about the light, but also about being able to connect with what is going on in the classrooms. I want parents to always feel welcome at this school, it’s going to be a place with an open-door policy at the heart of what we do…once the Covid restrictions have passed, of course!”.
Mrs McCord tells us that on her first visit to the school she spent four hours “…looking at absolutely everything and opening every door. By the end, I knew that the designers had got this place just right”. In particular, she was wowed by two special spaces. First, the school’s main reception area, a spectacular (and again, huge!) area enclosed in four storeys high of glass, and the “incredible” auditorium. Having shown us the beautiful entrance, Mrs McCord guides us up an open staircase, through the school’s office and administration area and eventually to the auditorium. Able to seat an audience of 1600 in great comfort, this is without question one of the most impressive performance spaces we have seen in any UAE school. Behind the stage is a suite of dressing/changing rooms, equipped to the same high standard as the bathrooms in other parts of the school.
Mrs McCord is keen to explain why this is so important to her,
“People always ask what a school will specialise in. My answer is this: when you have 2000 kids in your school, you need to focus on what those 2000 kids want. It’s about personal pathways for each and every one of those kids. They need to feel encouraged; they need to feel successful and so for me…whether it’s drama, sport, music…it doesn’t matter, my job is simply to support them to be who they want to be”.
From the changing rooms, we go outside to see the two swimming pools. Already fenced and ready to go, there is one pool for beginners and one for more advanced swimmers. Touring the exterior of the school we see an outdoor music performance arena, the multi-purpose courts and flood lit soccer pitch. The school’s sports facilities are completed by a large indoor sports hall with an overlooking viewing gallery (also huge in itself!).
As we walk around the outside of the campus, we see in the distance many new and established housing developments. Mrs McCord hopes to house her staff nearby, in order to ensure a short commute and a good work/life balance for the team she has already put together.
The intention for the Australian International School Dubai is to start its first year with around 100 students. "Why start so small?", we ask...
“We want to get it all just right”, Mrs McCord replies simply.