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25th Anniversary Speech


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25th Anniversary Speech

  1. 1. 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.
  2. 2. 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 Diploma Program. 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.
  3. 3. 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.
  4. 4. 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.
  5. 5. 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
  6. 6. 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 tomorrow’s leaders.
  7. 7. 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 your support. 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 to do: Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Thank you. Dominic Liechti Managing Director