Qatar Education Guide speaks to Tom Hawkins, Director – American School of Doha, on the school, his role, and education leadership transitions as he hands over the baton to the next Director.

You took over as the Director of American School of Doha (ASD) in 2015. From then to now, how would you describe the journey? What significant milestones has ASD achieved under your tenure?

The journey from 2015 to the present has been exciting, rewarding and very positive. We were able to complete a major (QAR 35M) campus improvement project in 2017 which provided world-class facilities for students and families at ASD. In 2018 we initiated innovative sustainability measures, which led to the Green Flag award. For the 30th anniversary in 2019, we initiated the Legacy Wall to honour donors from across the years and build a legacy for future generations at ASD. By summer 2019, ASD recorded its best AP and IB results and had better college admissions than any single year in the school’s history. And in 2020, we have deliberately focused on building our legacy of academic excellence to ensure ASD and its community remain the leading American international school in Doha.  I am very proud of what we have accomplished as a school in the past five years…and students are the greatest beneficiaries of these improvements.”

You have worked across the globe. What would you say are the differences and similarities between education systems across the world?  How does Qatar fare in the global education landscape and where do you see it headed in the coming years?

“As an international educator with over 30 years of experience, I would say there are more similarities than differences in education around the world.  All systems want to ensure safe and secure environments for students to be able to grow, learn and thrive. All systems want to prepare students for a world which is uncertain and for careers that may not exist just yet.  And all systems attempt to provide students with the skills, attributes and habits to be life-long learners and positive contributors to society.

“Qatar’s system supports all these aspirations, but they do it with a true mix of local and foreign/international approaches to schooling. The diversity of the educational landscape here in Qatar is unrivaled in my experience. The number of foreign national schools (Indian, British, American, French, Pilipino, Egyptian, etc.) running curricula to meet the needs of the home country populations here in Qatar is nothing short of amazing.  This comes from Qatar’s unusual situation of having more foreign students in Doha than local Qatari students. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education and the Qatar Foundation have both been entities, who have had powerful impacts on education in Qatar.

“Qatar is poised to continue to grow and develop in the coming decade, and the parameters they have put in place for education will serve them well. I believe that Qatar will continue to support the schools currently here in Doha to provide the vast array of quality education they currently provide and will continue to seek new and diverse schools to come in and provide additional educational expertise to continue to help Qatar achieve its Vision 2030.”

ASD stands on the foundations of a rich 31-year history in Qatar. How has ASD evolved and what has been its contribution to the process of Qatar’s education sector? 

“ASD has been a leading American international school now for more than 20 of its 31 years…having been initially accredited in 1996 by NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) when it graduated its first class. From the 1990’s, ASD offered the Advanced Placement program, and from mid-2000s began offering the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. Both of these programmes at ASD are very strong, with robust offerings and great results for students. ASD is the only school in Doha, and one of the only in the region, offering both of these programmes. Additionally, ASD is the only truly American curriculum school offering a comprehensive American school programme, which includes the curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular programmes in such a positive, supportive environment which is a hallmark of the best American schools worldwide.  Other schools in Doha have seen the value of what ASD provides and in some cases have replicated parts of our programme or emulated some of what is successful at ASD. I and colleagues from ASD have engaged with various Ministries and Qatar Foundation and other Pre-K to 12 schools to present and share ideas, collaborate on projects, and learn from one another.”

What according to you are the most important factors that go into making education leadership transitions at ASD a smooth process? 

The key to leadership transitions is effective succession planning, including stability throughout the organisational structure, and exceptional clarity regarding how to deliver on the mission of the school. I work closely with the Board of Directors at ASD and they trust me and the leadership team of the school to make sure the education and the programs at ASD are world-class. That current ASD leadership team has been built mostly under my tenure, and all of the team is staying on when I depart.  This level of stability in an international school is somewhat rare…it is the first time in my 5 years that only 1 team member has departed. The Board and I were intentional about this leadership stability, as we structured leadership contracts to ensure such stability.

“This leadership succession and continuity ensures that the programmes, initiatives and strategies to deliver on the mission of the school are understood and supported by the team around the school’s Director.  The new Director, Steve Razidlo, will come into a highly functioning school with an in-tact leadership team and clear direction on what needs to happen in his first year of leadership. Steve brings in a wealth of Superintendent and Director level leadership from his time in the state of Minnesota as well as in Austria where he is currently the Director of the American International School of Vienna. Steve’s skills match well with the school ethos and the strengths of the teams which he will lead. The faculty and students and parent community are all aware of the change, were involved in the selection of the next Director, and are looking forward to the continuation of building a legacy here at ASD.”

From one education leader to another, what would your advice be the next Director of ASD? 

“I have told Steve to be sure to lead with heart…as teachers need to inspire kids to learn, the leader needs to inspire the adults (teachers, staff, leadership, parents, Board) to provide their best every day to our students. It will be important that Steve connect with the kids, the staff, the ASD Board, the parents and the broader Doha community to learn what is needed, develop trust in his leadership, and deploy his skills and expertise to help ASD continue its commitment to excellence. Steve will need to trust those around him in large and small ways to continue the good work done in the past while forging the future of ASD.  And lastly, Steve knows this well, to take care of himself to be able to take care of others.

“It makes me incredibly proud to be the Director of ASD.  It has been a great journey, and I leave this school and community better than when I arrived.  I am thankful for the chance to lead this great school and to all those who supported me and the development of the school over the years.  I take this opportunity to wish the community and the new Director continued success.”

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