Accreditation Visits

The Accreditation Team

International School leaders often volunteer their time to support the accreditation of other international schools. Accreditation is similar to an ISO9000 process in business, confirming a school is meeting the international standards of excellence. This week (April 2-8, 2022), I am the Chair of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation visit to the International School of Turin, Italy. It is a synchronized visit with the Council of International Schools and the International Baccalaureate. Unfortunately for the team, the visit is virtual and these long days and nights on Zoom video conferences get a bit tiresome. It would have been much better to visit the school to get a true feel. However, it is surprising through Zoom how much you can learn about a school. I’ve also seen a few schools in my day and can quickly assess what is going on. I also wanted to see Northern Italy, a part of the world I’ve never been to.

It is a fantastic professional development experience for me. It is beneficial to be on the other side of the accreditation process. The Tashkent International School is undergoing our Synchronized Visit from November 12-18, 2022. This week has made me more comfortable with the software platform for the reports (WEAVE), the scheduling of the visit, and, most importantly, making sure we have all of our documents and processes in place. CIS/NEASC/IB are moving towards a supportive role for experienced schools instead of purely evaluators. The IB Chair described the process as holding up a mirror to the school. I like this format and I felt the meetings I am participating in this week are robust professional discussions about education instead of trying to find faults in the school. I am learning just as much as the school we are visiting.

Youth Protection Training by the Boy Scouts of America

Schools are on the frontlines of child safeguarding. Safeguarding is defined as policies, procedures and practices that an organization employs to actively prevent harm, abuse and distress. All children deserve a nurturing and happy start to life and along with parents and caregivers, schools are primarily responsible for safeguarding children. I was reminded of this recently when I completed the Youth Protection Training course sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America. All adults involved with supervising a scouting troop need to complete the mandatory training as well as undergo a police background check. TIS is acting as a charter organization for a newly formed Boy Scout Troop in our community. I am serving as the representative of Charter Organization and needed to complete the 72-minute online training program. Annually I try to do something to improve my knowledge and remind me of the importance of child safeguarding and this was a good way to do this for the 2021-2022 school year.

My big takeaway from the training was the concept of “2-Deep“. This is the practice of always having two adult supervisors at all outings or meetings. This also applies to digital communications. Always copy or include another adult, preferably the parents, when communicating to students digitally. The 2-Deep format is one of the numerous Barriers to Abuse the Boy Scouts use. Others include no 1-on-1 contact with a student without others knowing of the meeting, appropriate accommodations, a buddy system, respecting privacy, etc.

Scouting Logo
  • The training also highlighted that 25% of all sexual abuse are youth-on-youth cases and it is important to supervise when older students are with younger students.
  • I also liked the quote of being suspicious of adults who, “seem to like kids, more than the kid’s parents do”.
  • Sexual predators target organizations looking for lack of policies and practices regarding safeguarding.
  • The final unit focused on stopping bullying and keys to this were educating everyone to look out for others (supporting bystanders), stopping the behavior and acting respectfully and impartially as the adult.

I am looking forward to adding Boy Scouts to our after-school activities program at TIS. Young people more than ever, need outdoor skills and challenges that take them away from screens and into nature. We also need to educate the next generation of citizens, as the IB puts it, to create a better and more peaceful world.

The Case for Flexible Working Hours in Schools

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the pandemic is permanently changing work. I read many articles and listened to podcasts about how all types of businesses and organizations are allowing employees to work from home for at least part of the week. It makes sense that people can accomplish many of the tasks, meetings, etc. online working from home and it avoids the daily commute into the office and getting ready for work (dress, makeup, shower, etc.) Hundreds of hours over a year will be saved. We also hired 100% of our new teachers online without attending job fairs in person for the past three school years. There are pros and cons to remote work and there is some loss in not being together. For example in teacher recruiting, there is something unique in meeting someone in person and I am always surprised at my initial impression of greeting a teacher at the airport versus my impression of the teacher online.

I read the Independent School Management (ISM) article, “A Case for Flexible Work Hours: An Educator’s Debate” with interest. Last school year because of the pandemic, we allowed 100% flexible work hours for faculty because of health concerns. We figured fewer people on campus for less time, the risk of spreading COVID was decreased. This school year we made reinstated our traditional working hours from 8:00 AM to roughly 4:30 PM Monday through Friday. The idea being all faculty should be on campus while the students are required to be on campus. We do allow teachers to leave campus during the day if they have to go to the bank or have childcare needs, etc. and require them to sign out with one of the assistants. We also adjusted the time teachers can leave, making some days early and one day until 5:00 PM for professional development.

The article addresses many of the concerns the TIS leadership team has about going back to flexible working hours. My takeaway from the article is with some extra planning, teachers can be given more flexible time which will lead to greater well-being. The thinking is a happier and healthier teacher will perform better and will result in greater student learning and development. One argument against is secondary school teachers have more flexible time during the day than elementary teachers and it is not fair that they can start a school day later than their colleagues. You can also argue that cocurricular commitments are greater in secondary school and many teachers are leading or attending events in the evenings and weekends.

I understand that teaching is much more than an 8-5 office job. Teachers spend many hours assessing student work, attending school events, leading co-curricular activities. For example, I am the junior varsity boys basketball coach and devote roughly 6-10 additional hours of work outside of my regular school day to games and training, depending on the schedule. I am writing this blog post on a Sunday evening as I am catching up on emails and preparing for the week ahead. Educators do it because teaching is a calling in many ways and when the development of young people is at stake, you shouldn’t really be punching in hours on a clock. Educators do get generous breaks which is needed when so much emotional energy and time is devoted to the school during the school year.

TIS does allow some flexible hours with a relatively open campus for faculty and staff and early departure times on many days. I am not sure how much further I want to go with flexible working hours. I am still not convinced that the gain of more time at home for employees makes up for what is lost while being at school with colleagues and students. I am sure there is a middle ground for us to find on this.

Omicron Wave Data

Courtesy of the Washington Post – January 8, 2022

The Washington Post is doing excellent reporting of the pandemic and providing free access to articles concerning the pandemic. I’ve been disappointed by the sensationalist headlines of the New York Times during the pandemic. They misinform readers about the severity of the variants. In the chart above from this week’s Washington Post, you can see that although cases are at an all-time high in the USA, the number of hospitalizations and deaths are not. I interpret this as vaccines and boosters providing protection and perhaps the Omicron variant is not as severe as previous versions of the coronavirus.

The Washington Post also included another article from CDC in their weekly COVID news summary showing that children should get vaccinated as it does provide the same protection against hospitalization as in adults (see article at the end of this post). I also wonder about how seasonal influenza combines with coronavirus this winter. My takeaway from both these articles is thinking about how schools manage cases in light of a higher number of cases due to Omicron, but a similar rate of hospitalizations and deaths. I see that vaccinated people and young people are much safer in the pandemic than unvaccinated people, older people and those with health risks. Do we need to tighten our protocols? Do we need to go Virtual for a few weeks while the Omicron wave goes through our community? The data from South Africa is showing that the wave is much shorter in duration than previous waves (see chart below).

Washington Post – January 8, 2022

We don’t fully understand why pediatric hospitalizations are up, CDC director says, but vaccination clearly keeps kids safe

Washington Post, Francis Stead Sellers,

The omicron variant, which is sending U.S. children to hospitals in record numbers, is keeping people guessing — even the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the agency’s director.We are still learning more about the severity of omicron in children,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters Friday, noting that the increase in hospitalizations is occurring among all age groups.Rates are higher than before among pediatric populations. As of Jan. 1, the rate in the 4-or-younger age group was 4.3 per 100,000. Among those ages 5 to 17, the rate was 1.1. While concerning, the pediatric numbers are still minimal compared with older people: For those over 65, the rate is 14.7 per 100,000.The new variant is rampaging through the United States during the winter months, when other respiratory diseases, including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are prevalent. Some children are being affected by the two viruses at the same time, making it hard to assess the severity of omicron. Others, who come to hospitals for elective surgery, test positive for the coronavirus but are completely asymptomatic, further confounding the picture.The increases in child hospitalizations could also stem from there being more opportunities to catch the highly contagious omicron variant or from children’s lower vaccination rates.Despite such uncertainty, the CDC director presented compelling data for the efficacy of vaccination:

  • Just 50 percent of children ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated and only 6 percent of those ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated.
  • The rate of covid-19-associated hospitalizations in unvaccinated adolescents ages 12 to 17 is about 11 times higher than fully vaccinated adolescents of the same age range.

The best way to protect young children who are not yet eligible for vaccines, Walensky said, is to surround them with immunized family members, caregivers and teachers.

My Latest Thinking on the Pandemic: January 4, 2021

Sam Harris is an American philosopher, neuroscientist, author, public intellectual and most importantly for this blog post, a podcast host. His Making Sense podcast is available via subscription from occasionally he makes some episodes open to the public. Sam’s December 14 conversation with Yale professor, Nikolas Christakis, “What Have We Learned from the Pandemic?” is available to the public. I read Christakis’s book, Apollo’s Arrow at this time last year. The 3-hour podcast is a kind of “State of the Pandemic” conversation as we near the end of the second full year of the COVID global pandemic. Christakis believes the first patient contracted the new coronavirus around October 1, 2019 and the first person carrying the virus left Wuhan around November 1, 2019. The TIS Academic Council started planning for the pandemic on January 22, 2020 and the first case arrived to Tashkent during Spring Break in March of 2020. The long podcast covers a lot of ground including breaking down the recently released shorter quarantine and isolation guidelines from the CDC.

Automobile Airbags are a Good Metaphor for COVID Vaccines (image courtesy of ExtremeTech.com)

As Sam Harris says, how much proof do vaccine skeptics need with billions of humans vaccinated without problems? This was the first time I heard that probably everyone will be contracting COVID eventually. I chose the low probability of a vaccine reaction versus getting COVID without a vaccine. Christakis compares vaccines to an automobile airbag; the vaccine does not guarantee you will not contract and/or die from the coronavirus, but it does greatly improve your chances of survival. The same goes for airbags which are standard issue in most vehicles sold.

It frustrates me that so many people around the world refuse to get vaccinated. The latest variant Omicron is partially a result of the virus being able to spread in unvaccinated populations. Viruses usually mutate to a more highly contagious and milder form as a survival advantage. If a virus rapidly kills its host, it usually will not be able to spread. A milder, more contagious form of a virus can survive for longer. However, after watching HBO’s excellent, “Station Eleven“, I fear a future mutation might be deadlier.

WHO Uzbekistan Vaccination Data

According to the WHO, over 33 million vaccine doses have been administered here in Uzbekistan and over 16 million people out of a total population of 34 million have at least one dose. As with many countries, getting accurate data is difficult and all COVID statistics in Central Asia are vastly under reported. I think the vaccination data is more accurate than cases, hospitalizations and deaths data because of the WHO’s COVAX program and its network of public health officials working with local Sanitary Epidemilogical Stations.

One of my big lessons from the pandemic has been that people react very differently to the same conditions. This has made the pandemic the most difficult time for international school educational leaders around the world. However the pandemic progressed and whatever measures schools took to protect employees and students, there is always a portion of the community in disagreement. Atlantic journalist and podcaster, Derek Thompson is an insightful voice on the American and international media. He describes the division between people and media regarding their view of the pandemic in this conversation on the Bill Simmon’s sports podcast. I think he is correct in his analysis of the two “teams” in different phases of the pandemic (table below). I remember some teachers not feeling safe enough to stay in Uzbekistan versus teachers wanting to stay on campus. The next phase of the pandemic revealed the difference between locals and expatriates regarding their receptiveness to vaccines. We are now onto the third phase and people take a range of precautions in their daily lives.

Pandemic Phase 1Team PandemicTeam Flu
Pandemic Phase 2Team VaccineTeam Anti-vaccine
Pandemic Phase 3(Team very cautious) vs. (Team Get Along with my Life)Team Anti-vaccine

We will be issuing our latest TIS protocols this week. I can’t believe that this is the third academic year that is impacted by the pandemic. We managed to have almost a restriction-free 2021-2022 so far. 100% of the classes were held on-campus for all 78 school days so far. We even managed to hold cocurricular activities with our first interscholastic soccer, volleyball and basketball games. We also held our first music and theater productions to live audiences of parents and students. We had our first full faculty professional development sessions and social gatherings. The only aspect missing is international travel and exchanges. I am appreciative of the efforts of everyone, employees, students and parents to make this possible.

What will the winter and spring of 2022 bring to TIS? The evidence from Europe, South Africa and the Americas is showing that we will eventually have a huge spike in mild cases. Derek Thompson describes the Omicron variant like an invader of a castle. It is able to get over the moat and castle wall (vaccine-induced immunity) but the knights crush the invader inside the castle walls (mild symptoms). I am not sure how we will handle a large number of mild cases. The CDC has given us guidance to halve the length of quarantine and isolation (10 days reduced to 5 days). An option for schools will be week-long grade-level or school-level quarantines and providing Virtual Learning. We may choose to press on with on-campus teaching and learning, knowing that most cases are mild to moderate and significant percentage of our community will be home on 5-day intervals. I am waiting to see how long the omicron variant wave lasts, which will also factor in our decision-making. One wild card will be the Uzbek government and their mandates. TIS will be using more rapid antigen tests, following the reduced quarantine/isolation guidelines of the CDC and continuing with masking/ventilation/distancing.

Failure Resume

Daniel Pink Talks about How to turn your screwups into opportunities.

Daniel Pink is one of my favorite thinkers and much of his writing helps my leadership. I subscribe to his Pink Cast and have read several of his books. One of the concepts in his latest book, The Power of Regret is the idea of making a Failure Resume. Our normal resumes highlight our accomplishments and as Daniel puts it, “our awesomeness” but a failure resume highlights the occasions where we made mistakes. Stanford professor Tina Seelig makes her students write a Failure Resume and people who do, seem to learn some big life lessons from doing this. I really want to read her book with my soon to be 19-year-old son, “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World”.

TIS Pandemic Update: November 28, 2021

I remember an expert saying back in June of 2020 that the pandemic would be with us until 2023 or 2024. This was when I was thinking the pandemic would be over by the summer of 2020. I am realizing the expert was correct. We are learning how to live with it, however, and we are always moving forward to deliver the best education we can for our students. We will be rapid antigen testing all employees and students tomorrow as part of our periodic testing regime. The next scheduled test will be January 10, 2022.

The last confirmed case in the TIS community (students and employees) was on November 5. We continue to be vigilant as we slowly loosen our restrictions. We are monitoring the progress of the “omicron” variant and will not know its impact until the new year. The interview with Harvard epidemiologist Bill Hanage gives a good summary of the omicron variant

The World Health Organization Uzbekistan office issued its final Situation Report on November 25, 2021. Below is the chart showing the official number of cases reported in Uzbekistan from March 2020 to November 2021. Community transmission remains on a downward trend. They recommend using https://coronavirus.uz/ru to keep up to date on the epidemiological situation in Uzbekistan. 

WHO – Uzbekistan Situation Report (final chart #167 – November 25, 2021)

Latest TIS Data and Thinking on the Pandemic

The video above is a good overview on the latest progress of the global pandemic. I recommend The Economist podcast “The Jab” which reports on COVID-19. The good news is the vaccines are resistant to the many current variants. The bad news is more variants may emerge while the virus spreads through large unvaccinated populations.

September 30, 2021 – Confirmed Cases 5-day Moving Average

As you can see in the graph above from the September 30 UN Situation Report on Uzbekistan and COVID-19, cases are dropping in the country and Tashkent. This bears out in our school community as we completed the second consecutive week with no student or employee cases reported. Our next community Rapid Antigen Testing will be October 25th where we will get more data.

We continue to gather vaccination data from our community. As you can see in the pie charts below, with 72% of our secondary school (grades 6-12) reporting, 26.3% are vaccinated. In regards to the parents, 88% are fully vaccinated with about half completing the survey. I would think these two numbers are accurate percentages for both populations, with the older students probably having a higher percentage than younger students in the secondary school.

The TIS COVID Response Team is currently planning for loosening restrictions as transmission rates drop in the city. We want to continue to offer the basics of on-campus teaching and learning and our current level of cocurricular activities so we are taking a thoughtful, measured approach. The Team will be prioritizing the following:

  1. Consider dropping the use of masks for our youngest students and masks outdoors.
  2. Mixing of more cohorts in recreation times, cocurricular activities and school-wide assemblies and events.
  3. Develop guidelines for allowing parents to come on campus more often.

Uzbekistan Introduces mandatory Vaccination

Photo courtesy of Gazeta.Uz

I am happy to hear that the Ministry of Health is mandating vaccination against COVID-19 for all Uzbek citizens age 18 and above. The announcement came out last night. We are going see how we can help our employees receive the vaccines safely. I think that the Special Commission to Combat COVID-19 is acting strongly because of the current spike in cases in Tashkent. Below is the latest data of cases from the WHO Uzbekistan office.

WHO Uzbekistan COVID-19 Update: July 15, 2021

It is fortunate that the risk of death and hospitalization from COVID-19 for K-12 students is “incredibly rare” according to a study in the UK. From March 2020 to February 2021, a death rate is around 2 for every million people under 18 from complications from COVID-19. “None had asthma or type-1 diabetes and half had conditions that put them at higher risk than health children from dying of any cause.” Doctors running the study advised schools to promote immunization and mask use, despite students’ resilience to COVID.

The co-founder and CEO of BioNTech Ugur Sahin insisted booster shots are going to be necessary to get the pandemic under control during the 2021 STAT Breakthrough Science Summit. Pfizer also indicated that they are applying their mRNA technology to developing flu vaccines.

My Latest Thinking About the Pandemic: July 15, 2021

I am following closely a National Institute of Health trial of fully vaccinated adults receiving a booster doses of different COVID vaccines. My wife, adult-age son and I are fully vaccinated with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine and I am considering getting a Pfizer booster before returning to Uzbekistan. Immunity may wane after some time and with possible new variants developing throughout the world, it might become recommended by public health agencies. I predict that both the CDC and WHO will be recommending booster vaccines as we go into the cold and flu season this winter. In this trial conducted by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the University of Maryland, 50 adults will get a booster 12-20 weeks after being fully vaccinated versus a control group that will not get a booster, but will be fully vaccinated. The challenge for my wife and me is that we received our second dose on June 5. If we get a booster next week before we head back to Tashkent, it will only be a 6-7 week gap between the second dose and the booster. However, this may be our only chance to get it as vaccines are still not widespread in Uzbekistan.

The trial results also hint that people who have already received two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine could have a stronger immune response if they were given a different jab as a booster if recommended in the autumn.

“Mixing Covid jabs has good immune response, study finds” BBC Roberts, Michelle 28 June, 2021

The BBC article quoted above describes the results of a study by Oxford University researcher that shows mixing vaccines improves the immune response, especially viral vector vaccines with mRNA developed vaccines. It is calming to know that 2-dose Astra-Zeneca vaccine regimen reduces our chances of hospitalization from COVID by 90%, so no matter if I get a booster of Pfizer before I leave, I’ll be protected. I encourage everyone to read the article by BBC Medical Editor Fergus Walsh.

Some officials in the Uzbek government are asking organizations to make vaccination mandatory for their employees. This is good news in my opinion as the only way schools will be able to offer the full co-curricular slate of programs is through vaccination. Other countries are moving towards mandatory vaccinations for certain groups. Health workers in the USA and in France and Greece are some examples of mandatory vaccination policies becoming a reality.

An employer can make the vaccination mandatory for his employees,” – Alisher Kadyrov

Alisher Kadyrov said that in accordance with Article 212 of the Labor Code, the employer, in agreement with the members of the trade union, can assign duties to the employee arising from the interests of the labor collective. In particular, the organization can make the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for its employees to ensure a healthy work environment.The deputy also stressed that we have the right to demand guarantees that the personnel serving us – a bank employee, a seller, a driver, a law enforcement officer, a doctor, a teacher, is not a carrier of infection.According to the deputy, citizens are not obliged to receive a vaccine, but in the name of stabilizing the situation in the country, it is necessary to restrict the freedom of non-vaccinated citizens.