There's clearly something a little different about the new French curriculum Lycee Francais Jean Mermoz. Set for launch in September, 2017, the school's architecture, ethos and policies all set it apart from the established French schools already operating across Dubai.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com met founding principal Thomas Dentinger, to find out more about both this exciting new school and the man 'masterminding' its imminent launch...
Tell us a little more about you?
I studied sports studies at the University in Strasbourg, France, and at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK.
I started my career in France and then moved to several international French schools in United Arab Emirates and South America as teacher, head of section, head of educational technology implementation and assistant principal. Since the start of my career in education, I have spent more than ten years working in the UAE.
What do you think makes the Lycee Francais Jean Mermoz unique?
The location of the school compared to the other French schools: it will cater for different communities and will therefore be of great comfort for families living far from the existing schools.
The overall size of the school will be kept fairly small: four classes per level will ensure each student can develop their sense of belonging in the community and contribute to the identity of the school.
The design of the school with a beautiful exterior and unique classroom layouts with each ‘Grade-block’ placed together and sharing multi-use rooms for break-out activities. The furniture chosen will allow great flexibility and will support the pedagogical project.
The quality of the resources with more than 5,000 books in French, English and Arabic and with great innovative tools for students to develop their creativity.
What was it that initially attracted you to the school?
I think it was initially for the ambitious educational project: the development of autonomy, the culture of citizenship and the development of children are central to the educational project. Being able to use the experience gathered in the different international curriculum I have worked with over the years in this project made it all more interesting.
When did you come on board and what has your role been in the pre-launch?
I came on board in October 2015 and was confirmed by the KHDA as the principal in December 2015. I have been involved in most of the operations since then and shared my time between the preparation of the academic part of the project, the enrolment of the students, the hiring of the teachers and the operations (furniture, orders, IT solutions).
Education is whole and it is essential to bring all the pieces together to have a successful school. The whole team behind the project is very conscious of it and I feel very lucky to be involved in all the decisions that may impact the students, the teachers or the families at one point or another.
Is this your first 'founding-headship?'
All my career I have been involved at different levels in school development either because the school I was working in was recording exponential growth, or because I was part of the founding team. This is my second school opening experience in Dubai. Opening a school is challenging, but I feel very lucky to be able to take part to the start of this journey. I say the start because opening is not an end, it is only the beginning of the journey!
What would you like to see happen in the course of your first year as founding-principal?
I am hoping for a smooth start from day one! Given the current numbers, we will start with around 250 students.
I am also hoping to get the accreditation (homologation in French) by the French Ministry of Education authorities (accreditation similar to British schools overseas inspection scheme). We would then become part of the network of the French school abroad headed by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE).
I hope that we will translate the pedagogical and educational project we have built over the last years into concrete actions as to deliver on what has been promised to the families.
Now the most important: Happy students, happy teachers, happy families and happy management building together a community around the school and being eager to come back for year 2 is what I like to see happen in the course of your first year.
What do you predict to be the biggest hurdles for you and your school over the next year?
Opening a school is challenging and no matter how well we are prepared, I know we will face a few challenges: being proactive, recognising the challenges, using the expertise of our team and sticking to our open communication policy with the families will surely help us going over these small issues quickly.
Developing the awareness of our curriculum and our school behind the traditional populations of the French schools. Attracting UAE Nationals families is part of this objective: France has a long story with the UAE and we hope that we will be able to attract UAE families in our school.
Enrolments have been quite strong this year and we need to prepare for the enrolments next year as to be able to keep the quality of contact with the families throughout the enrolment process.
What are you passionate about?
I have now spent more than ten years in the UAE and I call this country home now: I appreciate the culture, the ever changing city that is Dubai, and the UAE diverse nature and landscapes shared between see, desert and mountains. As most of us living here I guess, I enjoy travelling and Dubai is a great hub for that.
Having studied sport, I am naturally fond of sports, even though with age and cracking joints some of them are unfortunately now out of my scope.
I am married to a wonderful wife who happens to be a teacher and we have one child who loves sport. All members of the family have attended or worked in French, IB and British schools over the years.