How do you get to be head of an outstanding organisation like the Hong Kong Academy? SAI KUNG BUZZ went to talk to Stephen Dare in his office with its big windows looking out to sea and the hotel construction that will soon wreck his view.
Stephen has a way with words. They stream forth. His words appear in publications throughout the school and on the website. The Academy is “becoming much more international, more inclusive… developing education on a global scale… more integral to the life of Sai Kung.”
Does reality match the rhetoric?
First, qualifications: Stephen has a master’s degree in international education and administration from Oxford Brookes University plus 25 years of experience working in international schools in East Asia. Before being appointed the Academy’s Head of School six years ago he was a faculty member and administrator at the International School in Manila. In his 50s, he is now studying for a PhD.
Stephen says the Academy, fifteen years old and two years in its present building, is becoming more international. It hosts visiting teachers and dignitaries and its staff go abroad to present at conferences.
Stephen sits on the boards of the Association of China and Mongolia international Schools and of the East Asia Council of Overseas Schools. They collaborate on mutual development.
A school like the Academy, nurturing kids from three to 18, tries to turn out well-rounded individuals. Its head better fit the mould. Stephen is a family man: Spouse Jennifer, who is an Academy teacher, and daughters Natali, who has graduated from the school, and Chloe, who is there now. He plays base for the Sai Kung band, Leveling Out, and is a golfer.
The school is becoming more inclusive, he says. He explains that it lays out different pathways to success for its youngsters. “Not everybody goes the international baccalaureate route.” Kids are given a mix of opportunities. In an institution with 615 students, inevitably there are a some with learning problems or social and emotional issues. Stephen said the school has counselors on call and where necessary children will be coached individually.
Is it a good thing for students to stay at one school for 15 years? Stephen says emphatically yes. Stability is important for a child’s emotional development. “We get to know the kids very well. Nobody slips through the cracks. We support their individual needs.” The student-teacher ratio is 6 – 1.
“We look at the notion of academic rigour,” Stephen says, his way with words taking off again. What does that mean? “It is not just about exam results or university entrances. How to show kids are fulfilling their potential? What does it mean for a kid to be successful? We want kids who socialise, kids who care, kids who make things happen beyond the school.” There are examples of that happening at the Academy with children active in animal rescue and environmental causes.
Is the Academy becoming “more integral to the life of Sai Kung?” It looms large in the middle of our town in its new form-follows-function building, but is an inward-looking institution. Children and families first, as you would expect. Nevertheless, the school does host community events. Sai Kung Market and Sai Kung Sessions operate there. The new Sai Kung Orchestra rehearses within its rooms and the Sai Kung Choir has performed there. The Syrian benefit concert organised by Karen Hayes was held there and Stephen performed with Leveling Out. The Academy with its much better facilities does interact with the Lee Siu Yam Primary School across the road, he said, and partners with the Sai Kung Community Centre.
“We are invested in building relationships with the community. We want to embrace the community. There are lots of opportunities here. The door is always open.”