At this time last year, as Athletic Director at Almaty International School in Kazakhstan, Rob was preparing for the school’s annual ski trip. But the dramatic climate shift to tropical Phuket is just one small example of the many exciting challenges of his new position. I recently met Rob at the QSI campus in Kathu to talk about how he ended up in Phuket and his plans for the school.
Firstly, I asked Rob to tell me a bit about his career and involvement with Quality Schools International (QSI) and its worldwide network of schools.
“My wife and I began with them in Shenzhen China for three years, then we left QSI and went to the Middle East, to Kuwait and Dubai, and then my second posting with QSI was in Kazakhstan,” says Rob.
Rob grew up in Canada and soon after graduating university he began his globe-trotting lifestyle in Australia, where he obtained his Master of Education and began teaching, and he hasn’t looked back since.
The wide ranging experience he gathered over many years teaching in many countries has provided him with a solid knowledge of school operations, evident in the growing enrolments at the school since his arrival.
“We were at 52 students and now we are officially at 83, so we have had a 60% increase since I arrived,” says Rob.
Although the QSI campus can easily accommodate more staff and students, growing the size of the school is not his top priority, as a non-profit organisation QSI focuses on quality over quantity, and so does Rob.
“Any school wants their enrolment to go up, but we are more geared to small class sizes, we have a 10 to 1 student teacher ratio, we have a family environment. So we are not looking to become a huge school on the island. It’s just a different environment,” he says.
Intrigued, I asked him to tell me a bit more about the QSI organisation and its educational philosophy.
“QSI is a very unique organisation in the international market, because we are a full non-profit, so the school is really geared to provide education for students and grow accordingly. We are also the only fully accredited American school on the island.
"We run the full AP (Advanced Placement) curriculum which is certified by the Middle States Association (MSA) in the US, as well as college boards, so we also run an advanced placement process for colleges,” explains Rob.
Although some parents enrol their children specifically to take advantage of the American curriculum, many other factors also attract families to QSI.
“A lot of our parents join us because of our class sizes, the family atmosphere of the school and they like the community feeling of the school. They want more of a one-on-one student teacher relationship, so their children’s needs can be addressed,” says Rob.
QSI’s policy of having a maximum 15-1 student-teacher ratio has also proved very effective when it comes to teaching English.
“QSI as an organisation does and incredible job teaching English for students coming in with zero English skills. We have a really strong Intensive English Program and we find that a lot of our students that come in with little or no English are speaking it well within a year,” says Rob.
This approach also gives the school the flexibility to teach a broad curriculum that includes social, community and environmental activities and not be solely focussed on academics.
“QSI’s education model is based on mastery learning, which basically states that time is a resource, so students are able to work at a pace that allows them, if they need a little extra support, to get that.
"It also allows our faster students to move up, we have a middle school boy that is already taking high school Biology, Math and English, because he is already working at a pace that allows him to move forward,” explains Rob.
“We also have success orientations that we teach as part of our curriculum. They are character developing skills like trustworthiness, responsibility, group interaction, independent endeavours, kindness and politeness,” he says.
Learning these skills is woven into activities like beach clean-ups, working in the school garden and visiting the The Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation.
“I think it’s important as an institution that we get involved with the community and build relationships and that’s what we are going to strive to do,” explains Rob.
On that note, I asked Rob how he and his wife Sarah were settling in to life in Phuket.
“It’s a very inviting and warm community, so I really appreciate that. We very much love it here, we have a couple of soi dogs that we rescued from the Bodhi Dog Shelter and they are a great part of our lives,” says Rob.