WSA's Principal Questions: Community Schools

WSA's Principal Questions: Community Schools
By C Hoppe
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Open any school website and chances are you'll find somewhere in the 'bumpf' it calls itself a 'community school.' But, have you ever thought about what this really means for the students who attend the school and the parents paying its fees?

We spoke to three top principals about what it means to them to be perceived as a community school and why it's all important to the brand, the staff and of course the students.

Patrick Horne, principal at the British International School Abu Dhabi, Samantha Steed principal at Ranches Primary School and Luke Osborne, head of Middle School at the Swiss International Scientific School Dubai, explain further...


Is being perceived as a community school important to you? If yes, can you explain why?

Patrick Horne, Principal at the British International School Abu Dhabi: It is extremely important. When a child attends a school then that is an emotional investment by all members of that family. Therefore the perception of a school as a community is extremely important for the whole family. The students and their parents need to feel welcomed by the school and to know that should they ever need assistance with a child's learning or development the school will do all it can to help. That community partnership can have a tremendous impact on a child's confidence and self-esteem, and ultimately can lead to great success at school.

The wider sense of community then stems from the above. Local businesses and other institutions, perhaps through contacts of the families, become involved with the school and partnerships grow wider and stronger. Opportunities for students grow and it also helps expose them to wider aspects of community beyond the walls of the school itself.

Samantha Steed- Principal at Ranches Primary School: It depends what the perception is! If Ranches Primary School is perceived to be an enabling environment where school, community and family are inextricably joined then yes, absolutely. However, if the perception is that we are an exclusive, closed group that does not welcome pupils from communities beyond Arabian Ranches then no.

Luke Osborne, Head of Middle School Swiss International Scientific School Dubai: Yes: a core value at the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD) is togetherness. We see ourselves as a community school in three different ways.

Firstly, and since inception, we have been a community in and of ourselves. Our unique bilingual philosophy draws students, staff and parents together. Our inaugural winter festival showcased this unity in a powerful way.

Secondly, we cater to the needs of a range of communities in Dubai, which thus far may not have been met by more traditional schools – perhaps families where parents speak a range of languages and are keen for their children not to lose this heritage, or those who aspire to offer their children a more rounded cultural upbringing.

Last but by no means least, SISD is committed to the community of Dubai itself. Our city is a dynamic, exciting place to be and it is our aim to contribute to the educational and cultural landscape of the city in a convincing and authentic fashion.


What in your view are the essential elements which make a true 'community school?' 

Patrick Horne Principal at the British International School Abu Dhabi: The main elements would be intangible. Feelings of warmth, welcome, openness and collaboration are what truly builds the culture of community. Other aspects do help, such as areas for parents to congregate (a coffee shop perhaps), or sports facilities which members of the community can share and enjoy.

Samantha Steed Principal at Ranches Primary School: Partnership and collaboration. Where there is an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, children thrive. Research has shown that pupils who attend a good community school experience increased stability, stronger family/school involvement and learn to live in a safe supportive and stable environment. It is the power of working together for the common good.

Luke Osborne, Head of Middle School Swiss International Scientific School Dubai: A true community school sees itself as more than just a generic educational institution. It strengthens the community through commitment to its own vision and ethos...


How integral is 'ethos' to a community school? Can you explain...

Patrick Horne Principal at the British International School Abu Dhabi: Ethos is integral, in a very similar way to another word I have used: "culture". One of the best definiteions I ever heard of culture was "how we do things around here". This leads to a definition of ethos of "what we value around here". An ethos of politeness perhaps, or service or respect. As before, it is often the intangible elements which really strike to the heart of what it means to haave a school which is truly part of the community.

To expand on this, such an ethos goes beyond the school. If students adopt an ethos of a school then they carry that with them when they are out and about. If we saw someone at a mall who was behaving in a particular way and we knew which school they attended that might cause us to draw conclusions about that school. A positive, community ethos therefore transcends what we do and also leads to what we value and how we act.

Samantha Steed Principal at Ranches Primary School: Academic outcome is of course a high priority for families when choosing a school for their child, however, I believe that parents actually select a school based on its ethos even if they are unaware of it at the time. Ranches Primary is a good place to spend time – it has a heart. We hope to be the heart of our community. What is developed in terms of moral, character and behavioural attitudes at Ranches Primary will benefit the local community.

Luke Osborne, Head of Middle School Swiss International Scientific School Dubai: For a community school to be successful, it is imperative that the ethos and philosophy is aligned with that of the broader community. Because the SISD core values of bilingualism, excellence, sustainability and togetherness overlap with the aspirations of our community, we feel sincere and confident about our contributions to – and position within – the community.


What do you believe are the benefits of enrolling at a community school for both parents and students?

Patrick Horne Principal at the British International School Abu Dhabi: The benefits are the personal and social rewards of being part of that community. They are meeting new friends, learning new things, having the opportunity to give to others and to help others. Playing your role within a community and contributing to the overall well-being of that community gives a tremendous sense of satisfaction and belonging. In their broadest sense, schools exist to prepare young people for the world. What could be more beneficial than playing your part in that?

Samantha Steed Principal at Ranches Primary School: There are a myriad of interdependent factors that can affect how well a child develops at school. Ranches Primary can bring together educators, families, health workers and community services to support an arising need. There is also transparency; we all live together within the community and I enjoy seeing my families at the mall. Schools have been under pressure to increase attainment levels on their own and it’s time to recognise how much more can be achieved as a community.

Luke Osborne, Head of Middle School Swiss International Scientific School Dubai: Parents and students should take the time when choosing a school to assess for themselves the extent to which the community spirit they experience overlaps with their own values. Do you identify with the school’s vision? Does it match what you see in reality? Does it excite you? If your answer is a resounding “yes”, then you have found the right school.


What are the cons associated with being perceived as a community school?

Patrick Horne Principal at the British International School Abu Dhabi: I honestly do not believe there are any. Community is a lot about belonging and about common interests - in this case, the education of young people and their integration into and contribution towards society. If someone sought out cons of that I would suggest it said more about that person than it would about the school.

Samantha Steed Principal at Ranches Primary School: There may be an assumption that our community attracts a narrow range of cultural diversity. This is not the case; we have 27 nationalities within our school.

Families may also feel that their children become satiated if they reside and are educated for a number of years within the same community. Pupils at Ranches Primary will transfer to a different site for senior school education.

Luke Osborne, Head of Middle School Swiss International Scientific School Dubai: Human beings are social creatures and a school that cannot sustain a genuine sense of community will not meet the most basic emotional needs of all concerned. Nevertheless, schools have a responsibility to make it clear that a strong community spirit acts in support of academic success: these two elements are complementary. It is worth underlining here that the positive student-teacher relationships typical of such schools have been found to be among the most powerful predictors of academic progress.


Finish the sentence- The ideal community school offers students...

Patrick Horne Principal at the British International School Abu Dhabi: The ideal community school offers students... a sense of caring and belonging, which gives them opportunities to learn and to grow and to make a positive contribution to society.

Samantha Steed Principal at Ranches Primary School: security, and peace of mind for parents. Communities become desirable places to live; families support one another with childcare arrangements and it goes without saying that less travel time equals a few extra minutes in bed!

Luke Osborne, Head of Middle School Swiss International Scientific School Dubai: The ideal community school offers students an emotional environment in which they can flourish.

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