We meet Graham Beale, founding principal at Jumeirah Village Triangle based Arcadia Preparatory School, a primary which has not only won awards for its design, but set about becoming the heart of its new JVT community.
Can you describe Arcadia Preparatory School
The Arcadia Preparatory School has quickly developed a very positive reputation founded on a warm and vibrant school environment and on ensuring our children's needs are met through an enriched and exciting curriculum. We provide the new English National Curriculum enhanced with in-school enrichment and homework support as part of our extended day. Most importantly we focus on making sure that our parents are welcomed and involved as partners in their child's learning journey.
Describe the last year in 3 words:
Exciting, dynamic and impactful!
What have you learned about yourself over the past year as a founding principal?
I have learned the importance of remaining flexible and open to new ideas. One of the really attractive aspects of this project was a determination right from the outset for our school to be innovative both in how we structure and deliver our curriculum and how we communicate with our school community. Listening to others and actively seeking input from all stakeholders are vital skills for a principal in such an environment.
Have you enjoyed being a 'founding' principal as opposed to simply a 'principal? If so, can you explain the main differences and why you enjoyed them?
I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and a key lesson for me has been an understanding that amongst all the busy-ness and fast pace of developing a new school, one must, from time to time, take stock, breathe and reflect on milestones along the way. I can't speak highly enough of our founding staff who come with diverse experience, and have adapted impressively to the challenges of establishing a brand new school. A strong team ethos has been the key to our successful start and our whole school community and staff have a real sense of pride and ownership in Arcadia.
Are you ‘on-track’ with your plans for year one outcomes? If not, can you explain?
We are very much on track with our plans and in many respects we are ahead of projections and initial expectations for the first year of operation. Our children are achieving excellent academic results and our talented team of teachers and assistants have ensured a great start for our learners. Our school motto is 'nurture lifelong learning' and the development of our house system and six 'Arcadia Values' has allowed us to develop a strong identity and sense of collective purpose, which I am sure will stand us in good stead for the next phase of our growth and development .
Have there been any surprising positives over the last year, that you didn't expect?
I think the remarkable pace at which enrolment has grown throughout the year has certainly taken me by surprise. While ensuring the needs of our parents was always at the heart of our approach, the degree to which our parents have now become our greatest advocates has been heart-warming.
Did you experience things you didn’t expect/plan for? How did you overcome these?
Our determination to be at the leading edge of digital innovation for our pupils caused us to re-think many aspects of the planned environment. For instance, our original plans involved traditional computer labs, but we realised that we wanted our pupils to be able to learn with technology wherever and whenever appropriate. This led us to focus on mobile technologies and flexible spaces, linked to new skills such as coding and 3-d printing, enabled through network connectivity. Large, touch sensitive screens replaced the original plans for whiteboards and our one to one iPad programme was developed and implemented all in a short space of time.
If you could go back one year in time and give one piece of advice to your old self, what would it be?
Enjoy the journey because the time goes quickly! Starting a new school to me seems analogous to having a new baby; getting through the first year is such a busy task that unless one is careful, there is the risk of not fully appreciating each remarkable little step of growth along the way.
What will be your primary focus for year two?
Our staff numbers will double and our roll will do the same. Along with that growth will come exciting developments in our enrichment learning programme, the implementation for the first time of sports teams and squads, development of performing and visual arts programmes, the bringing on stream of our enterprise hub and the embedding a new learning strand based on entrepreneurship. Through all of this we are determined to maintain a family-friendly feel in our school and to continue to work in close partnership with our parent body.