A letter to students from the ASD Superintendent – HS Version

It Felt Love

How

Did the rose

Ever open its heart

And give to this world

All its

Beauty?

It felt the encouragement of light

Against its

Being,

Otherwise,

We all remain

Too

Frightened.

From “The Gift” (Hafiz)

 

Dear ASD High School student,

Welcome to or welcome back to ASD! I hope your summer provided opportunities for rest, renewal, reading and other learning experiences. As the new ASD Superintendent, I wanted to start my tenure at the school by sharing the poem above. Why? Poet Robert Frost said it well, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” (emphasis added)

For the Richards family—Camille (grade 10) and Zach (grade 8), and my wife Tina—moving to Dubai and starting anew at ASD generates a myriad of emotions: excitement, nervousness, happiness, and sadness to leave friends in Saudi Arabia, among other feelings. Most of all, however, I am filled with awe and anticipation at the honor of serving the 1850+ students of the American School of Dubai. You, the students, are the roses at ASD, and it is up to we, the teachers, to provide the light so you can achieve your dreams and thrive in this world.

The Richards family is excited to join ASD due to the importance the organization places on the community itself. There are many high-quality schools in the world, but there exist fewer schools that go beyond a transactional relationship with its students and families. At ASD, you are part of a vibrant community that strives to be a conduit for your health, happiness and achievement (yes, all three outcomes are possible). ASD has a reputation of being a place that treats its members fairly and with kindness, with care and with empathy. This is exactly where we want to be!

I am writing to you because it may take some time before we can get to know each other, especially since the superintendent does not belong to any particular division or classroom. This is a chance to tell you a few things as the school year starts.

What does a superintendent do? Good question. First and foremost, I protect and keep the Mission of the school, to make sure we are living it: We challenge and inspire each student to achieve their dreams and to become a passionate learner prepared to adapt and contribute in a rapidly changing world. I lead the administration in the day-to-day operations of the school. I also partner with the ASD Board of Trustees—who focus on policy, thought partnership, and ensuring the financial viability of the school.

We take seriously the responsibility to realize ASD’s Mission with each and every one of you. As a result, I share the following commitments to you, which I fully expect you to hold me accountable to:

To listen. As an introvert, this comes naturally to me. I very much want to hear your unique perspective on the school, on your learning, or on life. Speak up. It will help us make better decisions.

To be fair. We will use ASD’s Core Values as the basis of an ethical framework for decisions on issues of programs, curriculum, handbook expectations, and policies. You will always get an explanation of why a decision was made, and the rationale for it.

To be available. My daily calendar is set up in a way that I’ll be out and about campus during and after the school day. If you don’t see me, make an appointment in the main office.  

To uphold ASD’s Core Values. I will strive to do right by the students and the school, and to set a good model for behavior, even in situations where it may be challenging to do so.

I would be remiss if I didn’t communicate some expectations I have for you:

Own your learning. After all, this is your high school experience, not mine. Self-motivation is believed by many as the key to success in our rapidly changing world. Much attention in the media has been given to self-driving cars or sky taxis, but journalist Thomas Friedman advocates for the self-driving you. There is wisdom here.

It is natural to think about the future during your time at ASD, to think of the school experience as planning and preparation for what comes next. It would be a missed opportunity, however, to focus your attention on how your actions today might influence rewards in the future. Instead, and I paraphrase from Stanford Professor Tina Seelig, use your school experience to experiment and explore in the present. In doing so, your natural curiosity and creativity will take over, and the singular focus on producing results will diminish (ironically, you will nevertheless produce results through these behaviors). We, the teachers at ASD, will do our part to create the space and intellectual climate to foster this mindset.

Uphold ASD’s Core Values: compassion, excellence, integrity, respect, responsibility. It takes all of us to model these values, and it takes courage to stand up for what is right, even if it brings discomfort or unpopularity. A community can only be a community if we live and breathe the core values. Otherwise, the values are simply words on a website or a poster.

Go beyond you. ASD strives to personalize the learning experience for all its students, but you also have so much to offer your classmates and community. Share your unique perspective on the world, and help others be the best they can be. The ASD experience is an opportunity to be engaged in a relationship with your community and its members. Relationships are two-way streets, where you can take, but you must also give back.

Finally, work hard, and devote equal effort to rest and recovery. The most accomplished people today and in the past work very deliberately on their rest, and they define this recovery as an active process (not just sitting on the couch for hours Netflixing). Walk, read, practice a skill, laugh, cry, exercise, hang out with friends and family, write notes, etc. Give your brain a chance to consolidate all it has learned in the course of the day. And what do scientists say is most important for you to be at your peak performance? Sleep. (I know. This can be a battle.)

You have a highly-capable Principal in Dr. Leever to work with on the day-to-day goings-on at the high school. I am also available to support your learning and development. Please do not hesitate to introduce yourself in the hallways or after school on campus (and you can always make an appointment with Ms Gonsalves or drop me a note). I don’t carry an email address, but you can find me on WhatsApp and LinkedIn (just ask me for a business card). I also write occasionally on my blog: www.drpaulrichards.com. Check it out.

I look forward to meeting you in the coming days and weeks. Here’s to a wonderful start to the school year and remember…

Once a Falcon, Always a Falcon!

Dr. Paul Richards

ASD Superintendent

ASD Parent Letter

Dear Parents,

Welcome to the soon-to-begin 2017-2018 school year. In the last week we welcomed 39 new faculty members, and several new administrators, to our learning community. I can also claim to be part of this new group! This collection of highly-capable professionals is currently participating in the new faculty orientation program and we believe each will make a positive and profound impact on our school in short order. Returning faculty and staff have also arrived on campus to begin final preparations for the start of the school year.

The Richards family is not new to the Middle East, having lived the past four years in Saudi Arabia, but we are new to Dubai and the UAE. My wife Tina, a nurse practitioner, will take her time to settle in before deciding on her next professional endeavor. Our children, Camille (Grade 10) and Zach (Grade 8) are eager to make new friends and begin school. Even our long-haired Jack Russell terrier, Kiwi, approves of the move, as he now has a social group in the neighborhood.

I want to extend a special welcome to our new families, whether you are new to Dubai or just new to the American School of Dubai (ASD). I look forward to hearing your aspirations for your children and for ASD itself. Please do not hesitate to introduce yourself when on campus. Your children will receive a welcome letter from me on the first day of school; there are a few things I want to tell them directly.

ASD Mission
The mission continues to serve as the driving force of all things at the school, in the decisions we make keeping the children’s best interests at the forefront, and in inspiring us to keep striving toward improvement. The mission is personal: “…challenge and inspire each student…” The mission is aspirational: “…achieve their dreams and to become a passionate learner…” The mission has a bias toward action: “…prepared to adapt and contribute in a rapidly changing world.” The world our children will inherit is not only different than the one we inhabited at their ages, but their world has yet to be fully created. Our graduates must be prepared for disruptions that have not yet occurred, and ASD through its Student Profile — Thinker. Communicator. Contributor. Learner. Leader. — is fully committed to this preparation. As the world changes around us, the school must also evolve its programs and approaches in order to stay relevant to our children’s needs.

Aligned with the ASD mission are the new strategic priorities, developed at a representative summit nearly a year back:

  1. In order to embrace our collective responsibility to deeply embed and fully realize our Mission, Core Values, Learning Principles, and Student Profile, we will develop metrics, report on progress and respond to our performance.
  2. We will develop and implement policies, systems, structures and practices that will meet the diverse learning needs of all of ASD’s students.
  3. We will design, implement and evaluate a community-wide comprehensive learning program that develops and cultivates a mindset to contribute and take informed action.

These statements represent the next iteration of the school’s strategic plan. In the coming months, you will have an opportunity to participate either formally or informally in the creation of results and accompanying action/strategies. You will receive updates throughout this year and beyond on the school’s progress toward meeting these ambitious targets.

ASD Core Values
Core values represent “how we do things around here”, and ASD’s five Core Values are largely ethical in nature:

Compassion: It is our responsibility to give help where needed.
Excellence: Striving for excellence is critical to our success.
Integrity: Integrity and honesty are essential to a safe and trusting environment.
Respect: Every person has equal inherent value. Embracing our diversity strengthens our community.
Responsibility: Each person is responsible/accountable for his or her choices.

It is critically important how we (the educators), you (the parents), and our students in particular, define the behaviors associated with each Core Value. This is especially true with Excellence, the only Core Value that is not ethical in nature. Excellence can be viewed as an activity, resulting from our hard work and ethical behavior, and it can be viewed as an output, where others judge our performance or actions at a high level of achievement. It should not be viewed as striving for perfection, or fostering excessive competitiveness. Please help me in reinforcing this message.

Advancing the Mission of ASD
ASD is well known for its welcoming community and again this year, there are multiple opportunities for you and your family to be involved in ways that strengthen our community and support our school. Each and every gift of time, talent and treasure is valued and supports the success of students and advances the mission of ASD.

We are grateful for the many dedicated parents who volunteer throughout the school and through the PTSA, Booster and CAST parent organizations. The dedication and gift of time create wonderful opportunities for our community that foster friendship and involvement. Please consider how you can get involved this year and I look forward to seeing you at all our community building events, including concerts, competitions, Halloween Night, Santa’s Workshop, Sports Award ceremonies, the ASD Carnival and more.

Last year as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, ASD launched its first-ever Annual Giving program. Providing opportunities to give in support of ASD is common at most leading, independent nonprofit schools (both in the United States and within the international arena). Through giving, you help ensure ASD can fulfill its mission to prepare students for our rapidly changing world beyond what tuition allows.

I want to say thank you to the many parents, faculty, staff and alumni who made a gift through the Annual Giving program or through the 50th Anniversary Gala. Last year’s annual gifts, together with the proceeds of the 50th Anniversary Gala, yielded nearly AED 1.5 million which have been dedicated to a number of outstanding projects that otherwise would not have been possible: the re-imaging of the ES and MS/HS Library projects; misting fans across campus; a new state-of-the-art theatre projector; new school-wide sustainability bins; division learning space enhancements; funding dedicated to support learning projects inspired by students and more. I look forward to sharing more about making a difference through giving to ASD and thank you in advance for your participation.

Home-School Partnership
Our children thrive at school when the support from home and from school are strong and aligned, where support is developmentally appropriate to the age of the student. Psychologist Robert Evans (author of Family Matters) put it well: “Prepare your child for the path, not the path for your child.” We want our children to be happy and healthy thirty-five year olds (and preferably not living with us at our home). This requires a gradual shift from the early years right up to graduation for parent-as-doer to parent-as-coach. We want to resist the parent-as-rescuer or parent-as-personal assistant roles that can be debilitating to the normal development of children. Parent-as-friend is the joyful role that develops once our children leave the nest.

Protocol for Resolving Issues: ASD is fortunate to enjoy the strong participation and support of parents, and you can assist us by talking directly with your child’s teacher regarding classroom issues or concerns at the earliest possible time. In the event that you are unable to satisfactorily resolve an issue with your child’s teacher, please contact the division administrator. If the issue cannot be resolved at the division level or if the issue relates to a matter of a school-wide nature, please contact the superintendent through Reina Gonsalves at rgonsalves@asdubai.org.

Reminders/Announcements

In concluding, the entire faculty, staff and administration are deeply committed to the upcoming 2017-2018 school year being a wonderful year of learning for your children. If we can be of assistance or support throughout the school year, or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. I look forward to meeting your family.

Sincerely,

Dr. Paul Richards
Superintendent