Meet Dr Mark Wenzel, Superintendent of Stamford American International School
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
In this latest Education Matters article, we are delighted to catch up with Dr Mark Wenzel, Superintendent of Stamford American International School (SAIS), in Singapore to talk about identity and inclusion in a multicultural, international school.
How long have you been in Singapore and what was your journey here?
This is my first year both in Singapore and at SAIS. I lived in Asia for about 10 years early in my career, in Japan and Korea, so I had a strong Asia connection and learnt those languages. After 12 years as a superintendent in the U.S., I was interested in having an experience where I could leverage my background and provide an amazing international experience to our own children. My wife, Julie, and I have two sons in the elementary bilingual programme and a daughter in middle school. Our children get a great education, and I get to see the school from a parent’s perspective as well as from my superintendent’s view.
What is your main focus for the school in your first year as Superintendent?
A huge focus for us is wellbeing and learning success. Parents across the world want their children to be cared for as people and they want to be sure that the learning system supports student growth and stimulates intellectual curiosity, especially in the context of finding a pathway that feels really exciting for them to pursue after they graduate.
What we are doing at SAIS is thinking about this holistically. We’re looking at the social and emotional wellbeing of our children, especially with the challenges of Covid. We’re looking at how students develop a sense of belonging, how they connect, how we leverage learning to give them an opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with adults who can really get to know them as people.
Is this how you approach being an inclusive school?
Absolutely. We emphasize that no matter who you are, you can find greatness here. We want students to think about the different choices they can make in life, about who they want to be and how they want to pursue their interests. If we as a school can offer different ways of exploring that, then students have access to a richer educational experience. We continually think about students, find out what their passions are and unlock their potential.
Your teaching background is in English, do you still teach at all?
In my role right now, I regularly visit classrooms across the school to observe, support and celebrate teaching and learning. I get to see what it looks like from infant care to our high school seniors, and it’s really rewarding seeing that developmental growth across the school. The commitment that our teachers have to high-quality work is inspiring. I also have the opportunity to take on a teaching role with the leadership team to support their development.
How do you encourage your teachers to develop a holistic mindset?
The common thread I’ve seen across our staff is a combination of personal intellectual curiosity – people who are learners themselves who really enjoy the learning process and want to grow in their own learning – and a passion for that holistic development of children. Our staff believe that student wellbeing and academic learning are both core; when we give students choice and the ability to explore rich content and connect on an emotional and social level, we allow them to grow in equally important ways. My leadership approach is to listen and learn – through sessions with students, parents and staff – and help connect dots with action plans to shape the culture and learning outcomes we all want.
What does the school’s holistic and inclusive approach look like within a classroom?
Student-centred. Both IB and AP offer rich content. The goal is for students to make personal connections to their learning to make it as relevant as possible. We look for meaningful ways to build on cross-cultural connections. We facilitate reflections that allow for individual backgrounds to come out to learn about and from each other. If you have a dynamic conversation about a novel and one student is from India and another from Europe, then they bring really diverse perspectives to the interpretation; that’s where the richness of that diversity comes out.
When we talk about inclusion, we ask, how do we allow students to bring who they are into the learning environment? How do we honour that cultural identity and individual learning style in ways that feel meaningful?
What has been your best school moment to-date which really underpins this sense of the Stamford community?
Well, we had huge fun with a school-wide competition with our counterparts the Australian International School as part of a “Global Be Well” week in the Fall. We had a friendly competition to see which school community could log the most kilometres walking or running, and we made it a fun rivalry. The Stamford lion suit came out (yes that was me!) and the lion was leading cheers on campus. There was this huge buzz about who we are as a community, and a deep sense of connection across grade levels and families.
What do you think you have brought to the role from your experiences as a Superintendent in the US?
Two things have influenced me the last few years as a leader. The first is reflecting on diversity and inclusion and trying to create ways to allow all learners find a fit at school – which means creating greater flexibility in our teaching and programs. Stamford has such rich diversity with 74 nationalities. We have the opportunity to think even more deeply about what it means to have a place at the table – and what that looks like in the classroom and the school.
The second is creating a culture of gratitude. When we actively show gratitude and take a positive, optimistic approach, organizational culture comes to life and personal wellbeing increases. I hope to have brought those two things, as I think they make a difference.
What are you most excited about?
Stamford is on the move. Our data show strong student growth and high levels of satisfaction among parents. It’s a really exciting place to be right now because of our wellbeing approach and this idea that we’re going to recognize and bring out student strengths. I’m really excited about that, about working with our amazing teachers and achieving outstanding learning outcomes with our students.
Stamford American International School is a diverse community of more than 75 nationalities working together to support learning and personal growth. Every student at Stamford American is treated as a unique individual and is given the direction, counsel and support to discover her or his own potential for greatness.
The curriculum supports a student-centered approach in which teaching for knowledge is paired with development of the whole person. At the core of our academic program is the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, built into the framework of the rigorous American Education Reaches Out (AERO) standard. For our students, this means a first-class education in a stimulating and nurturing environment.
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