TASIS Strategic Update

Spring 2021

 

 

 

 

An Update from Headmaster Christopher Nikoloff

Dear TASIS Community,

So many of our communications have been understandably devoted to Covid-19 that we now believe it is time to update the community on all of the non-Covid work we have been doing toward the goals we outlined in our Strategic Plan. As you may recall, strategic planning is ongoing at TASIS, beginning well before our successful accreditation in the fall of 2020 and continuing in conjunction with the feedback the accreditation process provided. 

I want to assure everyone that TASIS remains committed to the core values of its founder Mary Crist Fleming and its Mission Statement. We need to be in tune with the times but also look beyond them for the timeless values and truths in our mission. As Mrs. Fleming was fond of saying, “Times change, values don’t.” TASIS seeks to remain open to new knowledge and wisdom while guided by the belief that the forging of new knowledge and wisdom more permanently endures when grounded in a respectful understanding of what Matthew Arnold called, “The best which has been thought and said in the world.”

In the presentation below, you will find updates related to the following areas at TASIS (click on any of the items for a direct link to that section):

 

Many thanks,

Christopher Nikoloff
TASIS Headmaster

Curriculum

At the heart of a school program is its curriculum, which should always endeavor to teach “the best which has been thought and said” as referred to above. TASIS’s curriculum is guided by the knowledge-based principles of Core Knowledge, and TASIS pulls from appropriate curricula around the world, including Core Knowledge itself, to compose its program. 

In recent years TASIS launched a curriculum review process that sought to align standards, identify specific learning objectives in each subject area and grade, and create common assessments where possible. The school hired curriculum expert Larry Ainsworth to help architect this project by adapting his Rigorous Curriculum Design model to TASIS.

In keeping with the principles of Core Knowledge, TASIS seeks to have a cumulative, coherent, and sequenced curriculum and has therefore documented the specific academic content, skills, essential questions, and big ideas for each of its curricular units in its mapping tool Atlas. As announced on October 2, 2020, parents can now view the curriculum maps (password: suisse).

According to Larry Ainsworth, curriculum development is a “process, not an event,” and TASIS plans to devote time and resources each year to the quality, coherence, and specificity of its curriculum. As indicated above, this year we provided additional focus on the quality of what we call the “Big Four”: academic content, skills, essential questions, and big ideas, and next year we plan to turn our attention to common assessments where possible.

Professional Growth and Evaluation

As you may be aware, TASIS launched a school-wide Professional Growth and Evaluation Program to promote both professional growth and excellence in classrooms. Following months of committee work with teachers and administrators and direct training from educational consultant Kim Marshall, TASIS now implements a program whereby each teacher is visited 7-10 times per year and then discusses a “leverage point” with his or her observer after each visit that has the potential to positively impact student learning. Our goal next year will be to further refine and deepen this model to better support the work of our teachers and students in reaching their learning objectives.

Gradebooks and Gradebook Policies

This year TASIS moved toward use of a common gradebook in our school database Veracross at the Middle and High School levels. Also, each academic department developed gradebook policies within that department for greater consistency across teachers. Both of these developments will provide a firm foundation for future efforts to engage in rubric and standards work within departments and across grade levels.

IB Grading and Mock Exams

This year TASIS celebrated 25 years as an International Baccalaureate school, realizing a dream of our founder, Mary Crist Fleming, and capitalizing on the synergies between the IB and TASIS mission. Beginning next year for the first time, TASIS will issue IB grades using the IB scale of 1-7 on its transcripts. This is a historic change for TASIS, and one that will serve TASIS IB students well for the reasons discussed below.

Because the IB diploma program is criteria-based, issuing grades with the IB scale of 1-7 will give IB students a more accurate sense of how they are performing against IB criteria. Also, throughout the course of the year, teachers and students will be able to develop a deeper understanding of those criteria and how they inform student work. 

In addition to this development, starting in 2020, TASIS initiated plans to institute a second set of mock exams for the year-one students in addition to the mock exam sessions we have for year-two students. While we were unable to implement these plans due to the Covid-19 disruption last academic year, we will hold these mock exams this May. This practice, combined with IB grading, will further sharpen student learning and preparation in the diploma program.

AP Mock Exams

We are also forging new paths in the distinguished TASIS Advanced Placement (AP) program as well. For the first time since the program’s inception, we have begun to hold mock exams for AP students this spring. This will give students the opportunity to engage in formal practice of the rigorous AP exams before the actual exams in May.

University and College Counseling

The College Counseling program has successfully transitioned to a generalist model, meaning the counselors now support each student and their families with applications to all of their universities around the world. This was the first year of implementing this model, and we found it to be very successful as it enabled students to develop in-depth relationships with their counselor while ensuring we could support the whole student through their application and decision-making process.

In another exciting new development, all tenth-grade students were assigned a college counselor to support them in their course selection process. This ensured students and their families that they are making the most informed decisions possible to support their post-TASIS goals. Regarding communication, College Counseling endeavored this year to increase communication with parents and offer more informal and interactive sessions, such as our virtual coffee mornings or drop-in question-and-answer sessions for parents in individual grade levels. They have also collaborated with our wonderful TPA to offer programming for our parents, including the Road to College Luncheon at the start of this year and the TPA/College Counseling Book Club session on April 27.

Academic Travel

Despite the challenges the global pandemic visited upon travel around the world in the past year and a half, TASIS remains committed to its signature Academic Travel Program, a central pillar of our mission and the TASIS experience. During the current year, despite the headwinds of the global pandemic, we provided as many opportunities as possible for our day and boarding students to engage in travel around Switzerland, and we will have a few more opportunities on offer this spring. For the future, TASIS intends to emerge from the global pandemic with a renewed focus on Academic Travel and is currently exploring different models—one example being a “passport system”—that could simultaneously provide both greater agency and individualization for each student and a balance of learning experiences across cultural, natural, and winter domains. More details to follow.

Athletics

Of course, the 2020-2021 academic year was a challenging one for TASIS Athletics due to understandable measures and restrictions imposed by the canton and the federal government. Despite these challenges, the Athletics Department focused on improving some of our facilities and recreational offerings.

TASIS Athletics installed an artificial intelligence camera in the Palestra that will give us the ability to easily record and live-stream any competitions we host in the future. We are sure this will be a welcomed development for our parents who cannot watch the games in person. The department also started a collaboration with the Scuola Canottaggio Caslano & Malcantone (SCCM) this spring to offer rowing as a recreational sport, which has been an excellent addition to our program. 

In June 2021, the school will resurface our Palestra floor, which has been long overdue. We will have the TASIS crest placed in our center circle to strengthen our school spirit and the court markings will be updated to reflect current regulations. In addition, the Palestra will display new banners to highlight the achievements of our athletic teams and the conferences we belong to.

Finally, TASIS Athletics is excited to roll out a new set of athletic uniforms next year in which all the teams will be unified under one TASIS brand. Until now, we have had various colors represented by the different TASIS teams. We have streamlined this through a collaboration with Erreà, chosen for its sustainable and certified products.

Global Service Program

The global pandemic also visited challenges upon our Opsahl Global Service Program (GSP) over the past year and half, but despite those challenges the program has been able to provide valuable, transformative learning experiences aligned with the vision of the program. GSP has kept the TASIS spirit of service alive through Zoom meetings and pen pal activities, working with TASIS alumni, highlighting service group connections to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and holding GSP breakout groups and community weekends related to social justice topics and International Week.

Social Justice

The TASIS Board of Directors published its Position on Social Justice in the fall, and the document has continued to navigate TASIS in its efforts toward being the best expression of the ideals of its mission on campus and in the world. This year the students launched ongoing discussions on the topic of social justice, and we look forward to building on their good work in the coming years.

Middle School Reading Program

Starting from the fall 2021, all Middle School students will take part in a weekly reading period to encourage students to discover the magic of reading for pleasure. Our goals of the program are to increase the students’ love for reading and stories, encourage them to read not only in their first language but also in English, and support their reading skills and knowledge, including reading comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar.

One-School Model for the Elementary School

As announced in February, we are moving the Elementary School to a “One-School'' model, building upon the alignment and unification we achieved in the 2018-2019 school year by combining the American and Italian Section homerooms. With the new model, students currently in the Italian Section will have considerably more instruction in English next year while students currently in the American Section will have additional instruction in Italian. By removing the Italian and American Section designations, all students will follow the Core Knowledge sequence in history, thus increasing their exposure to academic English, which should also improve reading comprehension. The net impact is that all students will be set on a path toward becoming more bilingual before they proceed to the Middle School, where being very strong in both languages will help them reach their full academic potential.

Relationship and Sex Education

As announced before the onset of the global pandemic, TASIS adopted a Relationship and Sex Education program (RSE) that will introduce reproductive science and age-appropriate relationship and sex education topics to students largely in grades 5-11. The program follows select topics from the IGCSE science and the UK’s RSE curricula. RSE at TASIS aims to provide a basic and age-appropriate health and safety curriculum regarding topics such as alcohol, drugs, health, sex, and relationships, all while honoring and upholding the school’s commitment to each families’ sovereignty in regard to their child’s spiritual and moral education.

Boundaries, Consent, and Respect

To this end, the school has also increased its focus on student discussions on the topics of respect, physical boundaries, and consent in the past few years. In addition to High School assemblies on these topics in the fall semester, the HS Dean of Students and School Counselor conducted small group discussions with ninth-grade students in the Casa Fleming Garden over the course of a few weeks during the spring semester to promote a deeper understanding and heightened sensitivity to these important topics.

TASIS Mission

TASIS’s unique and distinctive mission serves as the philosophical foundation to all of our programs and all we are trying to achieve with young people. That is why we have increased our emphasis on understanding the TASIS mission with all new hires and in the orientation process for faculty and families at the beginning of the year. In addition to these efforts, I have had the opportunity to teach an introductory philosophy seminar to all tenth graders this year that explores the structure behind the ideas of truth, goodness, and beauty. I plan to continue with the seminar each year with the sophomores while adding a seminar for ninth graders that will serve as an formal introduction to the study of ethics. This way all TASIS graduates will have a common philosophical understanding of some of the core ideas behind our mission and in the history of thought.

Faculty Recruitment and Retention

The students and teachers are the heart and soul of any school, and TASIS has been blessed with very fine teachers from around the world. Given the internationalism of our faculty, we have also enjoyed a very strong retention rate of our teachers. Despite the challenges of the global pandemic, TASIS will once again enter the 2021-2022 school year with a strong retention rate of its faculty, in addition to attracting a new group of highly qualified, experienced, and inspirational new faculty members eager to join TASIS in the fall. Stay tuned for bios of the new teachers and opportunities to meet them when they are on campus.

TASIS has made adjustments to its hiring calendar and process in order to take full advantage of the international hiring season and secure excellent teachers at strategic times when they are available. In line with other international schools, we have dramatically moved up the timeline of our contracts in order to know which vacancies we have in the prime of hiring season. We have also invested in faculty salaries, benefits, and professional development over the past several years, including adopting a clear salary strategy, to assist with attracting and retaining the best teachers in the world.

Restructuring for a Stronger TASIS

TASIS has not been immune to the challenges and pressures of the global pandemic. Throughout this once-in-a-generation crisis, TASIS endeavored not only to survive but thrive, committed to delivering on all of its learning objectives both in and outside of the classroom. 

Thanks to the resilience and dedication of our faculty, staff, personale, and students themselves, we have reached and in many cases even exceeded these goals this year. Enormous investments in campus safety and learning, such as plexiglass, mass testing, hybrid learning capability, masks and other protective equipment, thermal cameras, special cleaning teams, expanded food services to distribute students, and more have made these goals possible as well. The human and financial sacrifices have been real, but the outcomes priceless.

We have also taken this opportunity to review all aspects of the academic and operational program with a view to emerge from the global pandemic even stronger than before. In this process we have had to prioritize programs that are central to our mission and best for students. We have reviewed our faculty workloads, consolidated administrative functions, redirected resources, invested in faculty salaries, and reevaluated our entire campus master plan, to name just a few areas of attention. We believe that we will emerge from this crisis with greater sustainability and efficacy in delivering our mission.

Updated Global Village

As indicated, the strategic planning during the pandemic included a revisioning of the school’s Global Village. The new TASIS Campus Master Plan, which we look forward to sharing soon, is a response to recent developments in the life of the school and the world at large. The developments have offered us an opportunity to make the most effective use of the available building sites on campus with an economy of means. The plan fundamentally rethinks the parameters of the master plan to maximize the effectiveness of each future phase. The result is an even more compelling vision for the future.

A primary goal is to get all academic levels—Elementary, Middle, and High School—on the main side of campus. This allows them to take advantage of shared facilities like art, theater, and gymnasia, affords proximity to drop-off (eliminating the need for a tunnel), and provides convenient access to the new dining hall.

Simplifying the construction around what was formerly known as the Corona buildings in the master plan, a single main classroom and residential block (Alba Nuova) sits above and behind a dedicated MacDermid Music Center wing. To arrive at sufficient classroom space around the Aurora and Belvedere Elementary and Middle School classrooms, a limonaia-like block is inserted between Belvedere and Campo Science (similar to something foreseen in the original 1996 master plan). All of this results in Hadsall being reserved for an upper-level dormitory after a major renovation to add private bathrooms to each bedroom. The proposed twin dining rooms and rooftop dining of Belrespiro maximize efficacy of service, provide scheduling flexibility, and create concentrated kitchen delivery away from the sensitive areas of Certenago. 

The result of all of these projects is a more effective distribution of functions on both sides of the Via Collina d’Oro, and as always a more beautiful and sustainable campus environment.

Thank You

I am so grateful to the entire TASIS community for your indomitable spirit and commitment during this unprecedented time. We have much to be proud of in what we have accomplished, and I look forward to the continued promise of Mary Crist Fleming’s timeless vision for young people around the world. I hope you are as excited as I am and will not only join us in this journey but contribute your unique gifts to help bring to fruition our tremendous potential.