A Vision for Change

By on March 10, 2014

In 2001, he adopted a new approach to education to suit the changing needs of the new generation. He founded  New International School, one of today’s most renowned international school groups in Tokyo, creating an oasis of academic learning.
TF catches up with its director, Steven Parr.

How has the journey been since you started multiage education in 2001 and what’s the future for NewIS as it turns 13 this year?  
Steven: Back in the 90’s, I felt there was a need for a new kind of international school; namely, one where the children could flourish un-compared in multiage classrooms, free from the standardization and rigidity of the age-grade system.  The school would also be dual language in English and Japanese, offer Chinese as a third language, and the children would all learn to play the violin by ear.  We have created that school, and it will expand to grade 12 next year.

How does the dual language aspect work? 
Steven  Every class has two homeroom teachers, who plan activities in both languages, using an integrated thematic approach and the Scottish curriculum guidelines.

 As you see it, what is the main advantage of multiage education?  
Steven  It breaks the cycle of predictability. When children spend three years in a class with a three-year age range of students and two teachers from different cultures, they experience being younger and older, more proficient and less proficient, leadership and mentorship, and so forth, with no ceiling on their development and no expectation that they need to be at the same “level” as anyone else. Their identity does not become fixed by virtue of a place or position in the class that continues for several years. This, I would say, is a Vygotskian approach to education and language acquisition. The children learn from each other as much as from the teachers and they really enjoy it.

NewIS will be expanding to Grade 12 from school year 2014.  Please tell us what families can expect from the expansion.  
Steven  Our parents can expect their children to receive a quality education, without skipping a beat, as they get older.
For the first 11 years we went only to Grade nine.  We have had 60 graduates from grade 9 and have been gratified by how they have done since, whether they went to other international schools from Grade 10 or to Japanese private schools or to schools abroad. felt school even remotely like ours in Japan.  When our Head Teacher, Timothy Stearns, and a number of our teachers decided they wanted to do it, the timing was right.
I have found inspiration from schools in the Progressive Education Network and the Coalition of Essential Schools in the US, and especially from the Compass School and the Putney School in Vermont.

Many of TF readers are expatriate families whose educational expense is supported by the company or organization they belong to. Please tell us about the Corporate Contribution and Scholarship programs at your school.  
Steven  We are founding members of the Corporate Contribution Plan Association so parents can avail themselves of the system if their employers will support it.  Any other kind of assistance is case by case, limited but not zero.

Media reports that Japan is considering to shift to English medium education on selected grade levels so that by 2020, the system will have been introduced to middle schools nationwide. If that is fully implemented, does that make transition easier from a Japanese school system to New IS in the future?  
Steven Of course it would help if students wished to enter our school from Grade 10.  However, I am doubtful the shift as described will ever happen.

We hear that you have started an extended care program for children too. Who can join and how? 
Steven  All of our students from kindergarten up can stay until 5 pm as we have a large variety of after-school activities. The extended care is for children from ages 3~8 who need to stay until 6 pm.  They may do so at an extra cost to  parents.

About Steven Parr
B.A. Brown University, M.A. UCLA   
Certificate from Principals’ Training Center (PTC)
First joined an International School in Japan in 1981. 
 Since 2001, Founding Director/Head of School, New International School of Japan  http://newis.ed.jp

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