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Returning to the Esol Education family, Mr. Jeff Smith took over the reins as Director at Dunecrest American School at the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year. STRIDES caught up with this dynamic leader to learn more about his fascinating background and his plans for Dunecrest for the coming years..

Mr. Jeff Smith, Dunecrest American School director

Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Manchester, UK (originally in foster care) in the North of England. I attended Smithills Moor Grammar School, Bolton, and went on to study Physics at Coventry University. I spent nine years in the British Army in a specialist airborne unit. I’ve always had an interest in outdoor pursuits such as mountaineering and fell-running, and am happiest when in a tent on a mountain! I started my educational career teaching Physics and Mathematics, and moved abroad with my first international school position as Head of Secondary at an international school in Jakarta, Indonesia. In 2017, I earned my Master’s Degree in Leadership and Management in International Education. I am married to Heather who is from Keswick in the Lake District. We have been married for 32 years 4 months, 3 days and 8 hours , but who’s counting! All three of our children, Helen, Joe and Elliot are in the medical profession, we are also blessed with two grandchildren, Sebastian, 7 and Lani, 3.

How long have you worked with the Esol organization and what brought you back to leading another Esol Education school?
I spent seven years as Director at Deira International School (DIS), Festival City Dubai 2011 – 2018, and I re-joined Esol Education in August 2021. I had a great experience working with Esol previously at DIS and enjoyed the family orientated approach (non-corporate) as well as the freedom offered to School Directors to innovate with a high degree of independence in a mutually trusting relationship.

Teachers should never forget the power they have to change lives.

What does effective school leadership look like in your view?
School leadership starts with a clear realistic vision understood by all and a high degree of respect and trust across the school community. Teachers need to know they are valued and respected and that they are regarded as the biggest asset the school has. Parents and students need to know that their opinions and voice will be heard and that all decisions are based on what is best for students.

What has been your most unforgettable experience as an educator?
The most unforgettable experience you can have as an educator is when you know you have had an impact on a student’s life. As a Deputy Headteacher in the UK, I was responsible for pastoral care. One student called David, had many problems and most teachers, including the Headteacher, wanted him expelled from school because of his behavior. David’s mother had died from drug abuse, his father was in prison, and he lived in an awful children’s care home. Having been in care myself, and having left home at age 15, which was David’s age at that time, we connected, and I understood his frustration with the world. I put a plan in place that would keep David in school. In short, he completed the basic qualifications required to join the Royal Navy and went on to have a very successful naval career. I explained to him that joining the military would provide a wage, a bed and three meals a day, and he could re-set his life, just as I had been able to do with my own. I received a Christmas card from David every year and in one he quoted verbatim what I said to him while at school; “you can make your difficult childhood your excuse for failure or your reason to succeed – you choose”. I am proud to say, he chose to succeed. Teachers should never forget the power they have to change lives.

Name three things you feel are key to student success.

  • Being happy and feeling safe at school
  • High-quality, exciting and engaging teaching
  • A wide array of opportunities to help students develop personally and academically

What aspirations do you have for Dunecrest for the coming years?
I would like Dunecrest to be known as the best American school in Dubai, then the UAE, then the region, celebrated for its happiness, wellbeing and student experience, as well as the school of choice for educators in the region to teach, innovate and develop further professionally.


1. What book would be at the top of your must-read list for educators? 
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

2. The best advice you ever received?
Focus on helping those around you succeed which will be the best measure of your own success.

3. Tech you would like to master?
Google Classroom

4. Your favorite movie of all time?
Local Hero

5. Most inspirational travel destination
The Lake District in the UK for its stunning beauty