International school Head Tenures

The “globe” logo for Littleford & Associates

Remember the Patterns and Statistics – Based on Littleford & Associates’ experience, board turnover, chair turnover and the loss of institutional memory account for 60% of the cases of heads being “fired”. Another important and related statistic is that is the third or fourth chair who fires the head 80% of the time. However, about 30% of the time heads are fired because they make too many changes that are threatening to faculty too quickly before they build that reservoir of political capital. That results often in teachers making an end run to the parents or board members directly to complain about the head. Missteps made early on are often impossible to correct. With the virus driving feelings, passions and decisions, all heads are at risk but new heads are especially vulnerable, and if they do not survive, there will be a new expensive search, another transition, and a loss of at least two to three years of momentum and progress. 

Littleford & Associates “Keeping in the Loop” newsletter, June 25, 2020

I am completing my first year as director of the Tashkent International School and really enjoyed the experience, despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Moving to a new school is tricky and learning the school culture, 150 employees, 500+ students, and 300+ families is a lot to take on. Added to this is a new country and government system which in Uzbekistan, being a new country, is rapidly changing. I attended several John Littleford’s webinars during the pandemic thanks to AAIE. John always gives his blunt, sometimes provocative opinion, but he always backs it up with data. Everyone of his periodic newsletters has insightful tidbits for international school leaders. The average tenure of an international school head is 3.7 years, which in my opinion is too short. I feel to really make a difference in a school, a leader needs at least 5 years.

“don’t worry about surfaces” Covid-19 Interview with Dr. Osterholm

I referred to Dr. Michael Osterholm’s 2005 article in a previous post that helped my thinking about this pandemic. National Public Radio’s Fresh Air program featured an interview with him. Osterholm’s publishing company is putting out a new version of his 2017 book, “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs“. He is the director of a disease research center at the University of Minnesota. From the interview, I learned the following key points.

  • The public is confused about this coronavirus and what is safe and what is not safe. Dr. Osterholm looks at decades of research of influenza transmission via surfaces and states that “clearly surfaces play very little role in the transmission of viruses”. We have gone overboard with disinfection. The transmission “is really all about air, and breathing someone’s air borne virus.
  • No one needs to be frightened of their environment, it is the air that they are breathing. He does not worry any more about food, packages, doorknobs, railings, than he would during the regular cold & flu season. He still recommends washing hands regularly. “It is the air that we share with each other that is critical.”
  • He also doesn’t think the antibody tests are worth doing because they are very poor.
  • Science does not understand the causes of influenza pandemic waves. Why they occur, why they stop, why a second wave comes.
  • Only 5-7 % of the USA population has been infected with this coronavirus. This virus will not stop transmitted until it reaches 60-70% of the population and we develop immunity. Think about the disruption and pain the past 4 months. We have a long way to go.
  • The big question is the race to get a vaccine which is the other way to end this epidemic. Recent polls show however, that 30% of Americans would not take the vaccine, which is part of the anti-vaccine movement.
  • Pandemic fatigue worldwide has set in. However, influenza pandemics last for many months and even years, and it will be difficult to keep physically distancing while a vaccine is being developed. He also reminds us that an 18-month lockdown would bring devastation on many fronts. He says we need to balance reopening with distancing and hygiene measures.
  • I am sadly not surprised at the number of death threats Dr. Osterholm has received by the public. This is part of the anti-science drive in American culture.
  • Being outside greatly reduces the risk of transmission. Wind dissipates the virus rapidly.

Dr. Osterholm runs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Their Covid-19 webpage has lots of good information.

How The Pandemic is changing International Schools

I look forward to the AAIE (Association for the Advancement of International Education) briefing on Saturday mornings. The executive director Mark Ulfers and his team always have provocative articles to stimulate my thinking. This week’s article is from Foreign Affairs, a 2005 piece entitled “Preparing for the Next Pandemic” by Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert from the University of Minnesota. The article looks at the big picture of global pandemics. With the earth’s population at an all-time high, almost 8 billion, we should expect more zoonotic viruses, jumping from animals to humans and wreaking havoc. Thankfully the Covid-19 pandemic is not as deadly at the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu, which killed 50-60 million people. However, it is a reminder that infectious disease is the biggest killer of humans.

The population explosion in China and other Asian countries has created an incredible mixing vessel for the virus. Consider this sobering information: the most recent influenza pandemic, of 1968-69, emerged in China, when its population was 790 million; today it is 1.3 billion. In 1968, the number of pigs in China was 5.2 million; today it is 508 million. The number of poultry in China in 1968 was 12.3 million; today it is 13 billion. Changes in other Asian countries are similar. Given these developments, as well as the exponential growth in foreign travel over the past 50 years, an influenza pandemic could be more devastating than ever before.

Osterholm, Michael “Preparing for the Next Pandemic, Foreign Affairs July/August 2005

At the time of the article, the SARS epidemic of 2003 was fresh. This was another virus originating in China from unhealthy conditions in animal markets. Osterholm’s observations of the negative psychological effects, the downturn in global travel and the economy, slow-acting governments, etc. are playing out 15 years later from Covid-19. His calls for preparing for the next pandemic went unheeded. Governments need to be prepared with stockpiles of PPE, research/development and production of vaccines and anti-viral drugs, etc.

Even if an H5N1 pandemic is a year away, the world must plan for the same problems with the same fervor. Major campaigns must be initiated to prepare the nonmedical and medical sectors. Pandemic planning must be on the agenda of every school board, manufacturing plant, investment firm, mortuary, state legislature, and food distributor in the United States and beyond. There is an urgent need to reassess the vulnerability of the global economy to ensure that surges in demand can be met. Critical health-care and consumer products and commodities must be stockpiled. Health professionals must learn how to better communicate risk and must be able to both provide the facts and acknowledge the unknowns to a frightened or panicked population.

Osterholm, Michael “Preparing for the Next Pandemic, Foreign Affairs July/August 2005

I think the long-term impact of this pandemic on education will be the use of online delivery of content as standard practice. The idea of engaging modules of precise learning objectives that students can access at anytime from anywhere will be present in all schools. It makes sense. Why design an engaging lecture or lesson plan, use it once for a class of 20 students and then it is gone forever. Teachers will be able to revise and improve their content over time. The flipped classroom will become the norm and class time can be devoted to discussion, assessment, sharing ideas, relationship-building, etc. It might be an exciting time in education. I also see what Scott Galloway is predicting, that big tech companies will be coming into education to really shake it up. I don’t think you can ever replace the human interaction and supervision that schools provide, but regarding content delivery, this will certainly change.

If I had the time and energy, I would love to lead the school in designing a couple of flagship online courses that could be taken by anyone. They would be focused on local resources that are unique to Tashkent. Perhaps an Islamic Art and Architecture course, or a Soviet history or the ecology of Aral Sea and Tian Shan Mountains. Other schools could join to create a network of online courses that would enrich school’s curriculum offering and make a more global, interconnected international school world.

During the pandemic, both AAIE and CEESA (Central and Eastern European Schools Association) have had weekly webinars, connecting leaders from schools all over the world. It has been some of the most rich professional development I received in my career in international education. This might be the opportunity to continue this and build upon it, having more collaboration between schools for faculty, administration and students.

The First Graduate of TIS

The first graduate of the Tashkent International School

The 2019-2020 school year is our 25th anniversary and we’ve been hearing from many former teachers and students. I was curious at the start of this school year to find out where the first graduate of the school. Sarvar Bobojanov is living now. Sarvar was a scholarship student in the first years of the school. He was the lone graduate in the Class of 1998 because the other 4 classmates in his grade, left the school in grade 10 and 11. He was the only one left at TIS in the 1997-1998 school year. As the first graduate, he garnered one entire page for himself in the yearbook (see photo above). Sarvar is pictured in the courtyard of the second campus of TIS. We rented some classrooms with a local school at 23 Chekov Street from 1995 – 1998.

It was delightful to find Sarvar through a quick internet search. He is living here in Tashkent and is a successful director of a juice and dairy product business. I invited him to come by and visit our school. He was last on our campus when he spoke to the graduating class of 2005.

My Latest Reading and; Thinking about the Pandemic

I was disheartened listening to the New York Times Science & Health Reporter Donald G. McNeil on The Daily morning podcast. He is pessimistic and concerned about the progress of our fight against the coronavirus. In the USA, there are 20,000 cases per day and 1,000 deaths per day with the number of cases rising in 21 states. He pointed out the latest science on the virus shows indoor (no wind) transmission through tiny droplets in our breath is a big factor in the spread. This is not only through coughing and sneezing, but also talking loudly, laughing and singing. The CDC estimates 1/3 of transmission is via asymptomatic people. Both of those facts are a challenge for school. McNeil is particularly worried about the next big wave of Covid-19 cases. In the 1918 Spanish Influenza and other influenza epidemics, a more lethal and bigger wave of infection took place. 1/3 of all deaths from the 1918 pandemic took place between September and December. The only good news was the rapid development of a vaccine, with 150 candidates in testing. Governments are already supporting companies to build factories to produce huge amounts of doses once a safe and effective vaccine is found.

New Findings on Asymptomatic Spread

The findings, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, suggest that asymptomatic infections may account for as much as 45% of all Covid-19 cases, playing a significant role in the early and ongoing spread of Covid-19.

Science Daily (through AAIE Covid-19 Briefing #17
Courtesy of World Health Organization Uzbekistan

As you can see from the chart above, the number of daily cases in Uzbekistan has increased in June and has reached the highest numbers we’ve seen since mid-April. I speculate that the loosening of restrictions and the end of Ramadan celebrations are the causes of increased infections. Uzbekistan has reached over 5,000 cases, with around 1,000 active cases and 19 deaths. There are a small number of cases outside of quarantine centers here in Tashkent, 10 were confirmed on June 14.

AAIE “The legal Perspective on Standard of care”

AAIE invited two attorneys who specialize in education from the McLane/Middleton Law firm in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. David Wolowitz has much experience with international schools and talked about risk management with Covid-19. Susan Schorr has a background in child welfare and protection and works with schools now as a lawyer.

The main themes of their talk were as follows:

  • Accountability – schools need to have a standard of care that meets the baseline legal requirements of the country; good international schools will strive to go beyond the baseline
  • Transparency – schools need to educate the community about the risks of the pandemic and explain their risk mitigation; it is an interactive process, so getting feedback is good.
  • Equity – fairness, protect the health of faculty, students and parents

The “informed consent” approach was discussed at length. This is difficult because it is basically trying to reduce anxiety about coming back to campus while telling people about the risks. It is important to be transparent and let people know what you know, what you don’t know and point them to the resources you are using. There were mixed opinions about the value of requiring employees and parents to sign a waiver. Releases or waivers tend to scare people and they are not airtight, but if you meet the baseline requirements of reopening schools, you are protected.

We discussed privacy issues and protocols if a case of Covid-19 is confirmed in your community. One school gave the grade level and section and sought the approval for the announcement with the family. Some families stopped informing because they did not want the community exposure. The lawyer’s advice was to understand privacy and employment law in the country where the school is located.

Another topic was to get parents to cooperate with school policies and to obey regulations of the country at home. They suggested a code of conduct that parents sign to pledge their cooperation and/or agreement.

My Latest Thinking on the Pandemic

I have been trying to learn as much as possible about Covid-19 and how to control its spread. This post is some of my latest thinking about this new disease. As more information and data is coming in, the medical community is learning more about this coronavirus. I am trying to make the best decision for our community regarding reopening campus for the 2020-2021 school year. I think we all see the need to try to come back to school, but I want to do so protecting the health of the community. I do not want to have an outbreak in our community.

Dr. Clayton Dalton an emergency resident at a couple of hospitals in Boston wrote an opinion piece in Scientific American yesterday, “So How Deadly Is Covid-19?” I was asking that same question a couple of weeks ago in a blog post. He reminds us that because most cases are asymptomatic, they are greatly underreported in the statistics, according to Food & Drug Administration Chief Scott Gottlieb by 10-20 times. The disease also had a big range of mortality rates, depending on where and when the outbreak took place. One worrying factor for school leaders is that this coronavirus appears to be much more contagious than normal strains of influenza.(CDC Study). On a positive note, the less exposure one has to the virus, the less severe are the symptoms.

But from my perspective as an emergency physician, precisely how deadly the virus is doesn’t matter right now, because the virus is deadly enough. I’ve stood on the front lines of the pandemic, and I know that this virus is no house cat. Every day for weeks, my colleagues and I have faced wave after wave of COVID patients in their 30s, 50s or 80s, many of them extraordinarily ill. Some of these people have died. Its virulence is astonishing, at least among hospitalized patients. Experienced physicians know that this is nothing like the flu.

Dr. Clayton Dalton, Scientific American, June 5, 2020

A colleague shared a BBC article, “Coronavirus: How Scared Should We Be?” This has been in my mind as we plan for reopening. If you have the mindset that every single person you meet may be emitting coronaviruses and every surface you touch is potentially full of coronaviruses, it will be impossible to live a normal life until a vaccine is available. In a UK study that the author Nick Triggle cites, in England, about 1 in 400 people at any one time carry the virus. The chances of having contact with someone is slim. However, schools are a high-dense environment and on our campus for example, there are 500 students and 150 employees. We are planning to break up the school into three isolated areas (Early Childhood / Elementary / Secondary School) which will limit the number of people exposed to each other.

I wonder what the number of people with coronavirus at any one time in Tashkent? According to the statistics from the Ministry of Health and World Health Organization office in Tashkent, there are currently 878 active cases in Uzbekistan. There seems to be a steady number of cases daily, around 50 per day. Most of the cases are in quarantine and few from the general population. However, there is always the question of the accuracy of the data and the number of people tested (approximately 370,000 as reported on Wikipedia).

Wikipedia – accessed June 6, 2020

Triggle refers to the University College London’s tool to calculate your risk of dying of Covid-19. I put in my characteristics, male, age 51-55, no underlying conditions and mitigating my risk through always wearing a mask, mostly keeping physically distant from others, washing my hands often and avoiding crowds. In England there are 1.3 million men like me and about 4,900 of us would be expected to die in normal conditions. Covid-19 pandemic could cause an additional 244 deaths.

For example, an average person aged 40 has around a one-in-1,000 risk of not making it to their next birthday and an almost identical risk of not surviving a coronavirus infection. That means your risk of dying is effectively doubled from what it was if you are infected.And that is the average risk – for most individuals the risk is actually lower than that as most of the risk is held by those who are in poor health in each age group.So coronavirus is, in effect, taking any frailties and amplifying them. It is like packing an extra year’s worth of risk into a short period of time.If your risk of dying was very low in the first place, it still remains very low.As for children, the risk of dying from other things – cancer and accidents are the biggest cause of fatalities – is greater than their chance of dying if they are infected with coronavirus.During the pandemic so far three under 15s have died. That compares to around 50 killed in road accidents every year.”

So basically he is saying one’s chances of dying of Covid-19 are very slim. We live with the risk of death everyday, but it is not in our conscious. The pandemic has brought it to the forefront of many people’s minds and that causes uneasiness. My current thinking is to ease back into my normal life but in a cautious manner, continuing the measures I took during quarantine. We also need to do this as a school, ensuring that no one with symptoms can come onto campus and that we quickly identify and isolate any cases and then contact trace to reduce spread.

An AAIE global Panel Discussion: High Performing Boards & School Heads in Time of Crisis

The latest AAIE (Association for the Advancement of International Education) offered a panel of board chairs and school directors talking about their experience of this pandemic. Schools included The Graded School of Sao Paolo, Vietnne International School of Laos, ICS Addis Abba of Ethiopia and the American School of Paris.

What changes in board policy or protocols that you wish you had?

  • We had to increase communication to parents and used video. The board also needed to meet more often and used Whats App to communicate internally.
  • The board needed to frame the discussion that the director wanted to take. Sometimes a sounding board, sometimes the board needs to make a decision. The board served as an advisory body, and the lines between operation were not “blurred” because the discussion was framed as such.
  • It was very useful to keep the school’s mission and it helped frame decision making. The board needed to form a task force, a small, focused group on the situation. The board also needed to move to Zoom meetings. One school decided to keep the leaving board members to support the head of school and use their input until the crisis can be managed by the incoming, new board members.
  • Weekly Zoom meetings helped because parents could give feedback and it helped where the school needed to be extremely clear in their communication.
  • The school risk management policies were not pulled together.

What was the most difficult challenge?

  • The speed of decision-making with limited data.
  • The line was blurred between operations and governance. This is necessary in a crisis and the frequent communication helped. Many schools used Whats app conversations.
  • Families that stayed in-country were upset that the school did not come back to campus.
  • The school in Laos had to deal with Covid-19 cases increasing in neighboring countries and caused a lot of emotional drama because people were doubting information from the government. (sounds familiar)
  • A school in Brazil had to deal with competitor schools dropping tuition 30% and another school closed sooner than them. “Never be in a hurry to make a bad decision” – Do not be reactive and make decisions that will really hurt the school in the future. Being the first mover is not always the best move.

What lessons have you learned? what would you have done differently? What is your next move?

  • The shift to online learning comes easier if the learning targets match with online pedagogy, assessment and support for students. This crisis shows schools that they need to get their act together and tighten up the educational practices.
  • The board needs to look ahead while the head of school and senior leadership team is dealing with daily and weekly challenges.
  • Schools that had online teaching and learning as part of their regular operations, were better prepared for the switch to 100% online learning.
  • Allowing room for conversations during a board meeting with the idea that the board and head of school are in a trusting relationship and together in moving through the pandemic.

Other things I learned…

  • The Graded School has over 500 students signed up for their summer program. (course catalog)
  • The international school is incredibly valuable to the international community in the city.
  • The moderator introduced the Stockdale Paradox. The idea is to confront the worst case scenario of any crisis head on.
  • In the chat, leaders discussed the McKinsey nine-box matrix.

Common Solutions for Reopening Schools

I listened to Jennifer Gonzalez on her Cult of Pedagogy podcast and looked at her website. Lots of good stuff on it. I am trying to learn as much as I can about the reopening of schools. Below is a list of solutions schools are using to get back at least some of their students and teachers.

  1. Alternating Days or Half Days – This lowers density in the classrooms to aid physical distancing.
  2. Cohorts – Keeping groups of students and teachers isolated from other groups in school. The idea being in case of a case of Covid-19, only that cohort would need to quarantine, not the entire school.
  3. Selective Return of Grade Levels or Groups – The idea here is to allow for the students needing the most on-campus instruction to receive it. This may include grade 12 (seniors) who need to graduate, early childhood and younger elementary students that cannot access the curriculum online, and groups with special needs, for example English Language Learners. Faculty members over a certain age might also be reassigned to teach online instead of on campus because they are vulnerable to the disease. A younger substitute should
  4. One Course at a Time – Students stay in the same course for a few weeks with one teacher. Instead of switching classes every hour, this would reduce mixing students daily.
  5. One-Room School House – This could work in elementary school with a homeroom teacher handling all of the teaching. Teachers may need to switch to a Project-based Learning and interact with specialists and other teachers, remotely. Some schools are making “mini-lessons” videos that students can voluntarily. The model would be a group of teachers assigned to a large group of students. Teachers would be assigned a part of the group, but all teachers contributing according to their strengths. Students would be working on long-term projects. I think this would work well with grade 10 Personal Projects or Grade 5 exhibition.
  6. Individual Learning Plan – The idea is to design 5 basic plans, ranging from staying-at-home 100% , coming to school occasionally, daily instruction, etc. Students could be batched according to their needs.
  7. Keep Distance Learning – 100% Virtual Learning is working and this might be a good way to start the school year.

Some other ideas to consider include the following:

  • Get input from all stakeholders
  • Looping – Teachers stay with their same year level group in the new school year.
  • Substitutes for older teachers over age 55.
  • Prepare for a full year of online teaching or at least a significant part of it. Provide PD for improving designing online teaching. It will still be there, so regardless, you can use the school time for connecting with students.
  • Provide childcare for faculty members with children.

TIE Map of School Reopening

The International Educator (TIE) published a world map of school reopenings. International schools, including the Tashkent International School are closely studying how it is working. I am especially interested in countries similar to Uzbekistan, although as you can see on the map, most of all of Central Asia remains in an online teaching mode. I consider Vietnam and China closest to Uzbekistan regarding infrastructure like health care, government control and culture than Western Europe, Australia and Scandinavia.