Interview with Ms Kyra Gailis: Elementary School Principal of Beijing BISS International School

“Our move to China was very interesting because my children initiated the process by telling me that they wanted to move to Asia.”

Kyra Interview Photo

First I would like to know what responsibilities your job involves and why did you decided to move to China?

I’m the Elementary School Principal at BISS so my main responsibility is that the Elementary Schools run properly. Maintaining our curriculum, dealing with possible discipline issues with students, as well as developing relationships with our parent community are just some of my responsibilities. Our move to China was very interesting because my children initiated the process by telling me that they wanted to move to Asia. We had been living for years in Europe and had travelled extensively throughout the region. They were ready to see more of the world so we decided to start this new challenge together in China. As I began to apply for positions, it was important to me that our next school was a small school with an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. I was offered numerous positions, but I chose BISS due to its years of implementing the IB program. This school was small and a great fit for my family.

Do you think there will be changes in the next years at BISS or is it going to have the same education system?

BISS is a Primary Years Program school that is authorized by the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. As the first international school in China to be authorized by the IB, we have a long -standing track record with the IB. Our curriculum and philosophies are strong because they have been built over the years. We do not have any plans to deter from the established curriculum.

What makes BISS different to other International Schools around the world where you have been teaching?

I am originally from the United States but have taught in Russia and Latvia for the last twenty years. I have a broad network of experiences and have developed friendships with other teachers and Elementary principals all over the world. Having the opportunity to learn in smaller class sizes is an important advantage for students that not every school can offer. I honestly can say that I am amazed how technologically advanced we are at BISS. Not only is our curriculum sound but we are embedding technology into the curriculum, thus making it a part of the daily lives of the students.

Every child at BISS has a technological device that they use in the classroom, whether it is an I-pad or a MAC book. Pre-school , Kindergarten and First grade students are using I-pads while learning to read and write. They are taking voice recordings as well. Students and teachers can compare the student’s reading from month to month. What an amazing tool. In addition, they are involved in a Flat Classroom project with children from all over the world. Our upper elementary create movies, PowerPoint presentations, wikis, and personal blogs. They are becoming authors for a world-wide audience.

Would you say having a smaller campus and less sport facilities is a disadvantage?

For families living in the city, it is not advantageous for students to travel long distances to a campus located in Shunyi. We cater to the families who live in the city. BISS prides itself in being a small school, offering a personalized touch. We do have a small gym and also a wide outdoor space with basketball courts, soccer fields, and a rock-climbing wall. We have two children’s playground areas as well. If we feel the need, our students are transported to the Olympic Sports Centre for sports classes. Our sports teams rank very well in the local competitions. For instance, our high school girl’s basketball team is currently ranked number one in the local Beijing league of international schools. With being a small school all of the students who want to play a sport can play. It is an incredible benefit.

Chinese language teachers are Chinese native speakers. Can you explain me the way the yare running their language classes?

At BISS International School we have Chinese teachers who are teaching Chinese language in levelled groups so that each student, whether a native speaker or a foreigner, can develop their Chinese language skills at their own pace. Class sizes are small so students receive individual attention and progress quickly. Teachers also try to figure out the level of each students and give them work according to their level. Most of our Chinese teachers have been hired at BISS as teachers’ assistance so they have been working in the elementary classrooms, and understand the philosophy of an International School.Some of them already had a degree in teaching Chinese or as elementary teachers before coming to work as assistants and they work their way up.

What skills and professional teaching experience needs a teacher to have in order to be hired?

Teachers who work at BISS are highly trained professionals. They must have a minimum of two years teaching experience and be certified in their home countries. Many of our teachers have master’s degrees as well. It is beneficial for teachers to be IB trained but we will also train them if needed. Teachers apply from all over the world. We work with international recruiting agencies and attend recruiting fairs to find the teachers who would be a perfect fit for our school.

Why has BISS more students coming from Asian families?

In the Middle and High School we offer a full program in native Korean, Japanese and Chinese languages. This is the main reason why Asian families choose BISS for their children because they want them to continue to develop their native language of Japanese, Korean, or Chinese. While studying in an International School with an English curriculum student can prepare for Universities abroad or can go back to their countries knowing that they have a strong foundation in their mother tongue. With our Language program this affords students a variety of opportunities.

Can you explain me a bit more the main differences you noticed between the education system in the United States, in Europe and in an International school like BISS?

It is true that there are big differences between a public or private schools in any country and an International school. The way the lessons are structured might be one of the biggest differences. It is truly a student- centred education. Teachers are facilitators of learning. We like to know what our students understand and what they want to learn. We can offer them specialized education because of the technologies we use in the classroom and the benefit of working in small groups. In addition, international schools broaden a student’s thinking. Students understand the world through the eyes of their classmates. We have 40 nationalities in our school which affords a rich exchange of cultures.

How exactly does the University guidance work? What are the most chosen Colleges and countries between students?

We offer a University guidance program which helps students and parents to decide where to apply according to each student’s grades, attitudes and wishes. It is very important to focus on every child individually but also to understand the wishes of the students and parents. Our students at BISS are encouraged to apply to many universities, different in order to ensure acceptance.

It is truth that students at BISS are accepted and choose to attend more Universities in USA. But they are accepted and even enter universities in the United Kingdom, China, Korea, Australia, Canada, Japan, Germany, Singapore and other European countries. Our record for college acceptances is high and our students can enter top Universities such as Harvard, Georgetown, Berkeley, University of London Royal Holloway and Franklin College in Switzerland.

Why would you recommend parents to choose this School?

As already said, we offer Chinese as a foreign language in several levels. We teach Korean, Japanese, and Chinese as a native language. Students can learn Spanish as well. Another benefit is our location. We enjoy a great location inside the city where parents who live in the city do not need to send their children more than one hour on a shuttle bus. We have a small school where everyone knows one another. It is a warm and inviting atmosphere conducive to a student- centred education.

We support our students academically, whether with extra English support or with differentiated learning groups. Our school is a 21st century school that places a value on preparing students to live and work in this ever-changing technological age. I am proud of our years of experience as the first IB World School in China and our quality curriculum has proved to continually produce graduates that enter prestigious universities all over the world.

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