GAIS, 25th Anniversary Speech
Dominic Liechti, Managing Director, GAIS
Honorable Consul General of Germany, Mr. Peter Rothen, our board of directors,
team, parents and colleagues, students, alumni, and friends of GAIS:
It is an honor and a great joy for me to address you on the 25th anniversary of the
German American International School. Allow me to extend special thanks to our
Guest of Honor, Consul General, Peter Rothen for accepting our invitation to this
very special occasion. Your Honor, we are sincerely thankful to you for being with
us, in spite of your busy schedule; this attests to the great support and
importance you extend to GAIS.
Thanks to all of you - not only for joining us here today, but also for making this
symbolic day possible. For some of you, this event marks the culmination of a 25
year story - a story that began with very humble beginnings. As you may know,
GAIS was started by a small group of dedicated parents wanting to provide a
good bilingual education for their children. While much has changed in the last 25
years, this goal has not.
As John Dewey stated “Education is a social process. Education is growth.
Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”
The aim of any school is to provide students a strong foundation comprised of
knowledge and life skills, which are the primary tools for success in life. This is
never an easy task, of course, but GAIS rose to the challenge 25 years ago and
continues to address that challenge today. A major effort in meeting that
challenge has been GAIS’ shift from a more traditional curriculum to a more
holistic curriculum, focusing not only on curriculum content but also on context
and application, namely the understanding of concepts and the mastery of skills.
Our ability to do this effectively and successfully has been made possible by our
partnership with the IB Organization and its programs including PYP, MYP and
That being said, the IB program only provides us with the framework. In order to
solidify this foundation, to challenge and prepare students for success, we
depend on a team of highly qualified and passionate teachers; the team is the
motor that drives the program and makes success possible. I’m proud and
grateful to have great teachers and administrators who on the one hand see the
student as the center of the educational process and on the other hand challenge
the students with different perspectives and in different environments.
It is these achievements that make GAIS such a special school, a school we can
all be proud of. With that, let me briefly highlight some of our achievements and
challenges over the past several years.
In 2000, we began the extensive process to adopt the IB framework and in 2007
became accredited by the IBO for the “Primary Years Programme “(PYP, Grades
PS-5). In doing so, we became the first school in the world to teach the program
in the German language. In 2010, we passed the evaluation and re-accreditation
process with great results. The next evaluation is scheduled for 2015 and the
team is committed to a process of continuous improvement. In 2009, we began
planning for the implementation of the IB’s “Middle Years Programme” (MYP)
and in February 2014 we were awarded our accreditation for grades 5-8.
I am extremely proud of these accomplishments, especially considering the fact
that GAIS is the first and only school in the Bay Area that offers both the Middle
Years Program (MYP), grades 5-8, and Primary Years Program (PYP), preschool
through grade 4, within a bilingual academic track.
Our success hasn’t gone unnoticed. The IBO has commended GAIS for its
meticulous implementation of its program standards. During the process of
implementing the MYP, we decided to establish a multiple language track, which
would enable our student’s with greater flexibility and choices as well as attract
prospective students. I think it’s safe to say we made the right decision. When we
started the Middle School we had 18 students, including one eighth grade
student, a retention rate of 60% and generating $200K in revenue. By
comparison, today we have over 80 students in the MYP, including 17 eighth
grade students, a retention rate of more than 85% and generating revenue of
$1.3MM. It’s just amazing!
However, a true measure of our students is to see at how are they thriving in
different settings after graduating from GAIS. Over the last three years not only
have 90% of our graduating students been accepted by their 1st choice of private
high schools, but many have received scholarships for academic excellence. In
addition, the majority of our students have been placed in Honors and advanced
Math classes and have gone on to outperform their peers in premier High
Schools around the Peninsula.
Like a proud parent, I would like to highlight some of our alumni who have been
rewarded for their achievements. Recently, Juliana Kessler, freshman at Notre
Dame, was awarded the department award for English Honors and the
Achievement award for Sculpture. Eden Grown-Haeberli, a freshman also at
Notre Dame, won the Department award for Algebra II Honors. Note: Eden
started in PS and Juliana started in first grade and probably Heike who has been
here for 20 years still remembers them as they were little. I’m really proud of our
alumni and I congratulate them for their great achievements.
As you well know, this success does not happen by chance or overnight Four
years in a row we have conducted the official DSD 1 exams (Deutsches
Sprachdiplom) for our eighth graders. The DSD 1 certification allows our students
to study abroad in universities as it compares their German language proficiency
with German requirements. As a next step our students can prepare for the DSD
II, which recognizes the language proficiency requirement for a German
University. We are thankful that the German Government supports us in
conducting these exams.
Furthermore, we have established three high caliber pedagogical school sections
led by internationally experienced principals, who are ensuring program
excellence and a smooth transition into the next level. This has allowed us to
implement streamlined online mapping including high quality scope and
sequence documents that reflects high international standards.
The global shift from an industrial to a conceptual age has inspired GAIS to place
more emphasis on qualitative feedback, inclusion, creative and critical thinking,
which results in more specific and valuable feedback for all of our students and
reinforces the theory of Daniel Pink, author of a Whole New Mind, that there is a
need to supplement an individual’s well developed technical abilities with abilities
that are termed “high concept” and “high touch.”
“High concept” abilities include:
• Artistic and emotional beauty;
• Detecting patterns and opportunities;
• Creating meaningful narrative; and
• Combining what appear to be unrelated ideas into strong innovative
and actionable ideas.
By contrast, “high touch” abilities include:
• being empathetic;
• understanding the nuances of human interaction;
• eliciting the joy in others and one’s self; and
§ stretching beyond our everyday approach to doing things with a
stronger focus on our purpose or meaning in life.
In order to enhance the High Concept and High Touch abilities in students, there
are requisite skills and tools necessary:
Not just function but also DESIGN
Not just argument but also STORY
Not just focus but also SYMPHONY
Not just logic but also EMPATHY
Not just seriousness but also PLAY
Not just accumulation but also MEANING
We are fortunate that these concepts are embodied within the IB framework and
that each student at GAIS has the opportunity to embrace these concepts.
I think David Perkins, senior professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School
of Education, captures the essence of this shift: “Understanding is the product of
thinking; learning is a consequence of thinking.”
Through our distinctive approach, program success, and unique German profile,
we have been invited to present at the yearly IB conference with over 1500
attendees from 30 countries in Washington DC. Moreover, the Western
Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) recognized just last week our
successful implementation of our 2011-2014 strategic plan with distinguished
remarks and granted GAIS accreditation through 2017. To quote:
• In each of the four areas: Educational Process, Staff,
Governance/Finance, and Facilities, GAIS’ progress has been
extraordinary and has gone beyond expectations and resulted in profound
growth as an institution.
• The authorization of the MYP as an IB World School is a testament to the
work of the faculty in developing a rigorous curriculum and executing it
with a high level of implementation.
• The school has done an excellent job of following up the recommendation
of the WASC committee’s 2011 visit.
• GAIS is a success in all respects.
Looking ahead, after an intensive planning phase including securing a conditional
lease and use permit with different political entities and finding a new campus on
the crowded Peninsula, I’m pleased (and relieved) to have finalized GAIS’ next
strategic plan and vision for 2014-2018, which will see us become the world class
model of IB education in Silicon Valley.
As you know, we begin our next phase on a new, state of the art campus not far
from our existing location. We have made significant progress with the campus
project. Yes, there is a lot to be done and we are still addressing challenges. We
look forward to your continued support and cooperation in the ongoing efforts.
And so we begin again: more challenges, more opportunities, and I am confident
of more achievements. Great things require the hard work of great people. Our
success wouldn’t be possible without all of the great people we have at GAIS. I
am indebted to all of them who have worked so hard to shape children into
Before we embark on this next phase, I would like to thank all of those who were
involved in organizing our 25th anniversary, specifically Melanie Schallehn and
her committee, volunteers and staff of GAIS. I would also like to thank every one
of you for the trust you have given me the last six years. Your trust in me to
pursue these goals has greatly contributed to our success and I am grateful for
In closing, I would like to leave you with a quote by the great poet Ralph Waldo
Emerson as I think it encapsulates what GAIS has done and what GAIS has left
Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave