James Leahy, Director of Anglo-American School of Sofia: Bulgarians Now Want First-Class Education
Exclusive interview of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) with James Leahy, Director of the Anglo-American School of Sofia, for Novinite's "International Survey: Bulgaria-USA."
James Leahy is responsible for the overall strategic management of the school, the recruitment and management of the human resources and the curriculum development.
Leahy holds a Masters Degree in International Education Leadership from The College of New Jersey, New Jersey, a Masters degree in Secondary Education Towson University, Maryland And a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from Whitman College, Washington.
He has over 27 years of experience in international education across the world, having worked in the USA, Ecuador, Mexico, Kuwait, India and Bulgaria.
The Anglo American School is a premier international school in Bulgaria, offering education to students from 35 nationalities. How does AAS strive to outdo other private schools for children whose mother tongue is not Bulgarian?
The Anglo-American School attempts to provide the highest quality instruction in English at all times to all grade levels. We want to cooperate with other schools in dialogue about best teaching and learning practices and in the development of curricular and activity collaborations for all students. By our mission, AAS serves primarily the international community. As our student population grows, we continue to add new nationalities to our community. This enhances the spirit of global citizenship which we aim to instill in our graduates. We do have around 25% Bulgarian students, who have seen the benefits from studying in an English-speaking environment and receive an internationally acknowledged diploma from AAS. Our Bulgarian Scholars program in the upper school recognizes our obligation to give back to the Bulgarian community.
What is the basis of private school management? How should children be treated at school?
The Anglo-American School of Sofia is governed by a Board of Directors who establish policy, approve the budget, and hire the Director. The Director is responsible for all school operations and programs. As AAS is a non-for-profit institution, our main focus as a business is to provide the best opportunities for children to learn. While we do need to keep our financial resources into account, we are guided by the question "How will this help us teach students better?" in all our actions. In my vision, every school should provide a safe, friendly and creative environment that prepares students to be responsible citizens of the world and life-long learners. This is what we aim to do at AAS every day.
Why are private schools gaining popularity in Bulgaria?
As Bulgaria has become a member of the EU, more and more options for international training and job placement are becoming available. It is natural for parents to look for opportunities for a first-class education, be it in elite state-owned schools or private ones. The growing affluence of the Bulgarian population is giving people more opportunity to exercise their free will to choose schools they see as best for their children.
To what an extent does the Bulgarian state leave you room for interpretation and improvement of the education and care standards?
AAS is an international school offering a curriculum that draws from the best practices from around the world. We do not fall directly under the Bulgarian Ministry of Education. Our school is accreditated by the Council of International Schools (CIS: based in UK) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC: based in US). We are also authorized by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO: based in Switzerland) to offer the IB Diploma program in our 11th and 12th grade years. These accreditations and authorizations assure our families and all schools that will receive our students that our program is operated on the highest of international standards.
Do private high schools show better achievements as a rule when compared to state schools in Bulgaria? Why?
I have not seen any statistically valid data in this area. Any comments without such data would be speculative.
Why do you think the state educational reform is taking so long to yield any results? What are the main mistakes of the authorities in their education policies?
Any reform of any system takes time – overnight change rarely succeeds and it is wise for transformations of large systems (such as education) to move gradually. Clearly change also requires large amounts of resources to be continually applied to be successful. Writing new curriculum based on best practice, training administrators and teachers, and providing new materials are all very costly endeavors that must be funded strongly and over long periods of time to be successful. The current economic crisis is not making this an easy process in many countries – including Bulgaria.
Do you agree that there are huge differences between the American private schools and the Bulgarian ones?
Of course there are differences. Independent (private) education in the United States has a long and distinguished history and there are many schools in that category. This is relatively new for Bulgaria. As the system of independent schools grows here in Bulgaria I suspect they will follow the models of other European nations such as England with perhaps some small influences from the United States and maybe even from international schools such as ours.
How many full academic scholarships for Bulgarian students does the Anglo American School of Sofia (AAS) provide for the 2010-11 school year? What is the amount of AAS investment?
AAS invests yearly in 12 full tuition & fees scholarships for talented Bulgarian students. The number of scholarships for the next academic year varies, depending on the number of good applications, as well as the number of free seats in the grade level. The AAS scholarship program is a wonderful opportunity for Bulgarian students and I would encourage anyone who is currently in grade 7, 8 or 9 to apply. More information on the application process will be available on our website www.aas-sofia.org in the beginning of 2011.
Why is private education in Bulgaria a good investment?
Education in general is a good investment and, as such, should be a focus for development in both the public and private sector. We know little about the economies of the future and the jobs that will be required to run our societies in 10, 15, and 20 years. What we DO know is that young men and women will have to think critically, solve problems creatively, and apply knowledge in ways we have not even envisioned. It is therefore imperative that education be placed in a very important part of our thinking – an investment in education is an investment in the future!
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"It has helped to create a privileged elite class and further the huge gap between the privileged and the ordinary mass of citizens. The US has the greatest income inequality among all industrial nations. Private privileged education has helped to reproduce and widen that gap."
This is how we roll in capitalist societies. Capitalism is the engine that created America's great wealth. How is this a bad thing? Socialism hasn't worked anywhere in the world in the last 50-75 years. As Maggie Thatcher said: "Socialism is a great system until you run out of other people's money".
"The way forward in Bulgaria should probably not be expensive private schooling for a tiny segment of the population, but good cost-free public education for all."
Cost free? Nothing is free, someone has to pay for it. Teachers need to eat too. Who is going to pay their salaries?
"Including the children ofthe wealthiest. That is in the interest of democracy and equity, as most Americans recognize.Children schooled in elite institutions grow up cut off from contact with ordinary kids and their life worlds."
Nonsense! Americans recognize the right of the individual to educate his children any way he sees fit. There are plenty of private schools in America for those who can afford them. There is no equality in the world, there is no equality in nature. That's just how it is. Get over it and move on instead of preaching socialism and sporting envy of the successful and the wealthy.
The fees for the school year are given below (new students, column 2, returning
students, a bit less)
Pre-School ?6,650 ?5,075
Kindergarten - Gr.5 ?17,440 ?15,485
Gr.6 - Gr.8 ?18,330 ?16,375
Gr.9 - Gr.12 ?19,180 ?17,225
Only a very small nouveau riche elite in Bulgaria can possibly afford such fees. Jim's statement "The growing affluence of the Bulgarian population is giving people more opportunity to exercise their free will to choose schools they see as best for their children" might more accurately state "growing affluence of a very small segment of the Bulgarian population." Children of high-paid internationals working in the region who can afford such fees also attend AAS
http://www.aas-sofia.org/admission/fees/ Interesting would be a study of the family backgrounds of the student body, published in an education journal. Also of interest would be data on the Board of Directors of AAS, not mentioned on the website. The teachers at AAS make salaries many times higher than that of their counterparts in BG state education.
The history of private education in many countries, the UK and the US in particular, needs to be looked at critically. It has helped to create a privileged elite class and further the huge gap between the privileged and the ordinary mass of citizens. The US has the greatest income inequality among all industrial nations. Private privileged education has helped to reproduce and widen that gap. This article from the UK stresses how private schools have become the "preserve of the super-rich" http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jun/17/private-school-fee-increases
The way forward in Bulgaria should probably not be expensive private schooling for a tiny segment of the population, but good cost-free public education for all. Including the children ofthe wealthiest. That is in the interest of democracy and equity, as most Americans recognize.Children schooled in elite institutions grow up cut off from contact with ordinary kids and their life worlds.