By Lindsey Kundel, Director of Communications & Marketing
It was an exciting day on the TAS campus earlier this week as both new and familiar faces mingled on campus for a unique, hybrid professional development experience. Head of School Dr. Grace Cheng Dodge welcomed new and returning employees with her opening address, held in the school's auditorium as well as on Zoom.
Dr. Dodge hoped that employees were able to enjoy the "longest summer ever," something which she says was well-deserved after ending the year with a challenging distance learning environment that impacted all employees.
She was happy to report that all school employees are currently on-island, including new hires, something which was challenging due to a stop on new visas last summer.
"Having everyone back in the building and having every single newly hired employee be able to fly into Taiwan this summer and be on the ground for day one is indeed a great feeling this time around," said Dodge.
Dodge continued her opening speech with both transparency and honesty about the many unknowns still facing the school with regard to living with endemic COVID-19 in Taiwan. She said that while she is thrilled we will be opening live and in-person for learning next Wednesday, August 10, she admitted that our "new normal" will most likely include wearing masks and continuing to limit campus access until revised governmental regulations are made after the local schools open up for their academic year later this month. She urged employees to remember that many of our youngest students have not yet been vaccinated and to remain patient with the rules that are in place to protect everyone's health.
Dodge then introduced her senior leadership team, which included a few new hires this year to help move the school's strategic plan into year two. This team of senior administrators will work together to handle all schoolwide issues and will be the primary decision-makers at the school.
The newly restructured senior leadership team includes:
Dr. Liz Gale, Deputy Head of School (new hire)
Amanda Jacob, Academic Dean (returning community member in a new role)
E-chieh Lin, Director of Inclusion and Wellbeing (new hire)
Larry Kraut, Chief Operating Officer (returning in this role)
The three divisional principals: Dr. Tara Simeonidis, Josh Budde and Andrew Lowman (all three returning in their roles)
Dr. Kathy Limmer, Assistant Head of School for Advancement (returning in this role)
The larger, 20-person leadership team includes the aforementioned senior leaders along with the two associate principals in each division and the directors of important KA-12 departments. This larger team includes:
The three divisional associate principals: Becky Klar, Rick Rabon, Gary Pettigrew, Megan Pettigrew, Jill Fagen, and Dr. Evelyn Chen (all six returning in their roles)
Carol Chen, Director of Human Resources (returning in this role)
Cathy Hsu, Controller (returning in this role)
Samuel Quek, Director of IT (returning community member in a new role)
Dr. Leanne Stanley-Rainbow, Associate Director of IT and Director of Instructional Technology (returning community member in a new role)
Michael O'Neill, Director of Admissions (returning in this role)
Dr. Dodge's welcome also included a welcome to our 41 new lower school, middle school, upper school, and cross-divisional faculty and 10 new staff, including several of whom moved from part to full time employment and several others who were already a parent or spouse of a current TAS community member.
Dr. Dodge thanked Carol Chen and the entire Human Resources team for their tireless work in helping this new cohort of employees get settled in and welcomed into our school.
She also thanked Larry Kraut and the operations, facilities, and security teams for their work over the summer, managing another series of renovations and infrastructure work to continue to improve our learning environment. Although you may not automatically be able to see the work that they did, all of their work made it possible for us to have a smooth operating year and return to on-campus classes.
Her final thanks went to every single member of the employee community.
"I want to acknowledge that we have been through so much, and even if you are new to Taiwan," said Dodge, "you have most likely seen the effects of COVID on your daily life. Thank you in advance for your continued flexibility and patience as we navigate what hopefully will be a smooth opening and a very successful first few weeks of school."
Dodge explained that her goal is that we hope to move out of "crisis mode" into a longer-term generative mode, one that continues to manage both risk and compliance.
"Times have been tough," said Dodge. "But I continue to see great opportunity in this year and the ones to come. People have been stressed and anxious and maybe have not always demonstrated their best behavior. But unlike last summer, I hope that people got out of their homes and didn't stay locked up all summer in fear."
Dodge said that while we know we will continue to see the effects of pandemic fears, she asked employees to remember that the entire world of education has been turned upside down. And that that isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it can provide the school with the ability to innovate and iterate.
"Whatever you may think or wish for as a return to how we used to do things before is really not going to happen," said Dodge. "In all honesty, it shouldn't. I've always said we can't teach students in the same way we were taught. As we educate students, we also give them the power to teach us. As we guide parents, we work in partnership with them. The goal is for everyone to start accepting the value of education not as a series of transactions, but as a lifelong journey."
Dodge sees this year as a year to continue "full steam" ahead, especially with regards to community building. "You know I've hammered resilience, compassion, and trust as crucial elements needed to be demonstrated in this community," said Dodge. "But things like trust need to be earned, and it will really take a journey, not a sprint, to get there."
Dodge said that her own summer was one of personal growth, where she participated in a summer-long seminar with other international heads of school. The seminar focused on the concept of trust in schools. "I want to work in a school where there are high levels of support and where people believe in each other. I commit to working towards an organizational culture that puts students first and where people do truly care about each other," said Dodge.
Ultimately, Dodge hopes that every single community member—including employees and parents—join her in this individual work that will reap community-wide rewards.
"I can't move this gigantic ship on my own," said Dodge. "And that is why I need all of your help, through uncertain times and through stable times."
The Head of School ended her speech with a list of hopes and dreams that she has for our learning community, the things that she says motivate her on a daily basis and that she hopes will motivate others this year and beyond.
"I wish for a larger community of risk takers and people who are not afraid to try things and maybe be wrong once in a while. I wish to see more joy in this learning community instead of a focus on just outcomes that then perpetuates a culture of comparison," said Dodge. "And you will see me continue to push a real culture shift in this community to eliminate a culture of fear and a culture of comparing. I really hope no one really wants to win a game of who has more work to do or who got the least amount of sleep the night before. I'd like to see more risk-taking, more agency, and I would like to work in an environment where I can feel more trust being earned among our community members and more trust demonstrated among our community members."
Although she admits that not all members of our community will have the same view or wishes for TAS, she said that disparate views only make this place more special and complicated. She feels honored to be able to lead us as we continue to find ways to bring our community closer together.
"We are one school, where everyone has a part and the ability, or the responsibility, to influence students," said Dodge. "Every student you encounter this year, someone else will work with next year. I want to thank everyone for their role in the care of all students when they are not with their parents. I hope you realize that we are all in this together, and we are all on the same side looking out for students."
Her success as a head of school is completely dependent on the success of every school employee, said Dodge, because TAS is not "her" school—it is our school, and especially one for our students. Dodge said that she is in this work with every employee, to do what we can do best for the benefit of our students.