New Headmaster of GZAAT: Gary Crippin

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change, their minds cannot change anything.”
George Bernard Shaw

A new academic year has started with substantial change: GZAAT has a new director, Mr. Gary Crippin. Enthusiastic and devoted to his job, he has led schools in different parts of the world, and now is here, in our academy in order to make it more outstanding and sophisticated than ever. We decided to interview Mr. Crippin and find out his point of view on many crucial issues related to GZAAT.

Q: Different parts of the world, different schools, and almost always a leading position in school administration. It seems like you’ve been devoting your whole life to it. What does being a director of a school mean to you?

Well, it’s a very satisfying feeling to be able to lead a school, to be able to analyze the problems and the issues that schools have. Some of those are fairly similar; many of them are quite unique. This kind of problem solving situation, which is directed towards something very important, that is young people’s learning, and their success in school, and their success in university, is extremely meaningful for me. I find my job quite satisfying, but it also has certain frustrations and limitations. If you’re working for a national system, let’s say in the States, for example, leading a school in California, you’re part of some bigger system that tends to dictate what to do. With International schools the situation is different, as long as those schools are not linked to each other; they are not part of a single system. GZAAT is unique, it was started in a very unique way, and it really needs to think its ways through its problems because no one can actually dictate how to render a job. You have to rely on your community, and for a director, that is also a huge responsibility.

Q: In your letter, you emphasize on the fact that GZAAT’s educational ideas and programs fit your own values as an educator. In your opinion, what is an ultimate goal of an educational institution know as a high school?

What is an ultimate goal? To produce students who are thinking, but at the same time, compassionate individuals. In the school, one should acquire thinking and understanding, but also that compassionate aspect, the idea that knowledge is about making the world better. It should not be just about getting a job and making a lot of money; indeed, the latter is certainly a significant part of one’s life, however, schools have to aim higher than just SAT scores and university enrollment. They should aim at producing decent, benevolent citizens as well, the citizens who eagerly contribute to various fields.

Q: Does this feeling come randomly to a person, I mean, when he or she thinks about giving back something and contributing?

Well, this is something that a school certainly needs to stress. One of the questions asked by the board when I came for an interview was: “How do we keep people in Georgia? How do we keep all these talented graduates?” Some of them may be doing well in the US, Europe and they just never come back, and I said: “That’s a difficult question.” How can you ensure this until the infrastructure in Georgia changes, until growth really takes off, job are probably not as plentiful nowadays as we would like them to be. On the other hand, a school can certainly do a lot in terms of little things, in terms of continually talking to their students and repeating: you know, somebody was here to give you this opportunity in this school, and you need to be there for somebody else. Whether you are in Georgia, whether you are outside Georgia, you think this is kind of an ongoing family situation. And, more importantly, it’s not just about earning a lot of money and then giving it to the school, it’s rather about giving attention.

Q: Mr. Crippin, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment in school administration?

Well, what gives me a great satisfaction is not a single event, like I did this or I put in this program. It’s when you reach a place in the school where you feel that you’ve created a real community of learning, when you have all the members of the community actively collaborating, working together. This was happening in Turkey and several other schools. You should create an intellectual community, a place where exciting things are going on, and the sense of working towards something positive is maintained.

Q: Many aspects of GZAAT are quite impressive, but as an experienced educator, could you name some lapses in the infrastructure of our school that should be rectified?

What this school has is one of the most valuable and difficult pieces to recreate, and that’s the sense of good teaching, good methodology, and good relationship between the teachers and the students. What the school lacks, it’s an organizational culture; policies are not really written, curriculum is not really developed in ways that I’ve seen in other schools. However, these pieces are probably easier to create than the other pieces. I’ve been in schools with good systems that worked, but the situation in the classrooms was not quite pleasant, and the entire environment was not appealing.

Q: Have you already thought about the innovations that you would like to bring forth, the changes that are crucial to be introduced?

When I came here, I looked at what the school had, and it had this solid teaching base with so many devoted and professional teachers. However, all those issues regarding a new building and an International accreditation stress further the necessity of a strategic plan instead of a spending plan. What is this school? What are the things that it does not want to change, that it wants to maintain? What’s the environment in which it is operating and growing? How can it grow within the bounds that it wants to grow, and not grow in the ways that would destroy and change the essential chore? A school accreditation is a good place to start. It is not just about coming and seeing what the school is doing right or wrong, it’s about continuous improvement, so it really puts the stress on the school, gathering the information about its operation, reflecting on what it does in a relationship to its own goals, to its own mission. When a school is performing well, the members of its community start to take a success for granted and they tend to say: That’s perfect, everything is great, and if we keep doing what we are doing now, we will definitely maintain a leading position. Not exactly. The conditions constantly change and you’re coming up against new kinds of possibilities, challenges and limitations that require thinking about new kinds of solutions. Some schools just stay in the model they once created. Teachers should continue looking at their own practice in the classrooms, thinking about new possibilities in terms of curriculum, the ideas about courses in terms of structure. Those things have to take place. A professional should always ask: should a particular job be rendered this way? How could I do this better? Teachers are professionals, and they are decision makers. When you are a teacher, it’s a very creative and demanding profession, and running schools as well. A school should think about the ways of proving that it follows its mission. When you launch a program, you should be able to show to a doubter how certain aspects and areas have changed. When you have some goals, try to think of some measurable ways to prove that the results are consistent with the goal. The school should also actively solicit information from the members of the community; a dialogue is crucial for the improvement, for the development. You really need a feedback. It is important to understand what you teach, however, it is much more important to know what students actually learn and comprehend. It depends of what kind of assessments you use in the school. How can the teachers be sure that the students really understand the covered materia?l That takes deeper work by the school. It puts a teacher and a student into a more challenging framework, but this is when we can start talking about understanding as opposed to the knowledge of some factual details.

Q: It turns out that GZAAT should have a motto: Improvement and Progress.

You know, moving an organization from “good” to “great” is much more difficult than moving it from “poor” to “good”, because everybody realizes “poor”, but sometimes it  seems complicated to distinguish between “good” and “great”, as long as many can be satisfied with “good” and perceive it as a peak.

Q: What do you think about a competitive environment?

That’s definitely something that should incite a school to think about improvement. When GZAAT was started, it seemed to be the only conspicuous high school in Georgia, but what do we have now? We have European school, QSI, French school, British school. To sum up, people have choices nowadays. Georgian parents make great sacrifices to send their kids here, and they will be ready to make those sacrifices if we make them feel the superior quality.

Q: Many bright students graduated from GZAAT, and some of them have already graduated from the universities. Could you please tell how you perceive and see the future of Alumni Relations at GZAAT?

Alumni can make great contributions by their support, their interest, and their involvement. They can be an important part of the way the school develops. They should remain very touched to the school.  A strong alumni network is extremely crucial. We need our alumni. They may come and talk to the students about their experiences, or get involved in some programs, be an example for current students who would graduate soon.

Thank you very much, Mr. Crippin.

We choose the road to improvement, and hope that every member of GZAAT community would contribute to this goal.

By Nini Arshakuni

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