Whether it’s dress code, the house system, advisory or the switch to ATs, Singapore American School students rarely struggle to find something to complain about. Over the past summer there were several changes in administration that changed the people in charge of policies. Former high school superintendent, Dr Chip Kimball, was replaced by former Denver public schools superintendent, Tom Boasberg. The new high school principal is Mr Stephen Ly with his predecessor, Darin Fahrney, moving to a new role within the school as Executive Director of Teaching and Learning. Starting a new year welcoming a new high school principal and a new superintendent marks the beginning of a new era in SAS. The two men responsible for maintaining the exceptional standards were kind enough to take time out of their busy schedules to talk to The Eye about their vision for the future.
Throughout the first few months of school, the word “culture” has been thrown around a handful of times. The high expectations for SAS students and faculty alike are well documented. Whether it was Mr. Ly’s rousing speeches at both the Welcome Back assembly and special sessions dealing with issues of school culture, or initiatives like music playing at the foyer before school on Mondays and after school on Fridays, there’s been an emphasis on altering the school’s positive vibes into something we can all be proud of. “The goal pure and simple is to make sure every student, faculty member, and staff member has a positive and if we can do it, joyful experience at the high school. It’s a culture where people feel safe. Where people feel their unique talents are recognized, where they feel they can bring their real selves to school,” Ly remarked. With new faces and old faces in new jobs, this year the school heads into its next chapter where this culture can be reshaped into something completely different. When Mr. Boasberg was asked about his ideal SAS society he stated, “It’s a culture where there’s a real sense of joy. I think both adults and young people learn best when they enjoy what they’re doing. Sometimes people say ‘school shouldn’t be fun’, I disagree. When you’re passionate about something you’re gonna really pay the most attention, you’re gonna care most deeply about it.”
Although many of the work the school’s administration is done behind closed doors and out of the student eye, a noticeable change every high school student can relate to is the sheer amount of interaction we have with these leaders of our community. The pair can be seen frequently at the high school steps welcoming students with high-fives and conversations about their out-of-school lives; in the first week of school, the superintendent even joined the seniors for a lunch block where they introduced him to the grade-level based seating structure of the cafeteria. This is a considerable change to previous years where their predecessors had minimal one-on-one conversations with the student body. Mr. Ly stated that these additional interactions are a change the administration has made to implement a listening-based society where those higher-up listen to the views of students to gain a better outlook on what steps the school can take to enhance the academic and personal lives of these students. “Is it a concerted effort? [to have these added interactions with students] Yes and no. I do have to set aside time in my Google Calendar to make it happen. However, this is just who I am. I came into education out of mentoring, so the format of a one-on-one conversation matters so much to me. In the letters that I write to the community I try to incorporate at least one or two of the conversations I have with students”, said Ly.
Meeting with students and giving speeches at assemblies may be some of the more enjoyable parts of the job, however the day-to-day also includes meetings with donors, dinners with board members and a host of interactions that require a lot of time, effort, and sacrifice. For Mr. Boasberg, taking this job as superintendent also meant leaving his job in charge of Denver Public Schools where he had a host of achievements, notably increasing the graduation rate of African Americans in the district drastically. Answering what prompted him to move him and his family halfway across the world, he said, “Once I was approached about this opportunity, I went home that night and at the family dinner we were all interested in the prospect of joining such a diverse community. We were interested in being part of a warm, welcoming and innovative community. We’ve also had a history in Asia; our kids have been developed with a sense of Asian culture and they were really excited by the prospect of coming back to this side of the world.” For Mr. Ly, the decision to take the jump from deputy principal to high school principal wasn’t a straight forward one. “It was a family decision; I had to consult my whole family before committing… [and] I’ve had less time with my wife and kids, which is hard. I’m no longer just in charge of taking care of my children anymore, I now have 1200 other kids that are my responsibility.”
There have been a number of changes in the past few months and with fresh ideas at the helm, there are only going to be more. To have two people so dedicated to making the school the best it can possible is something no one should take for granted. There’ll be challenges along the way, but to achieve these goals is going to involve the efforts of not only these two men, but the whole school population.