Esol Education News
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Bill Delbrugge, Director at American International School in Egypt – Main Campus (AIS), and newly appointed President of the Mediterranean Association of International Schools, is a vibrant force of nature, known for his infectious spirit, inspiring leadership and larger than life personality. Strides catches up with Bill to hear more about his journey and talk about teaching, innovation and his aspirations for his students.
1. Tell us a little about your background and the roles you had prior to joining us at AIS.
Before coming to AIS Egypt, I was the Superintendent of Schools in Flagler County, Florida, where my team and I were responsible for all facets of education for 26,000 students. During the seven years I was in Flagler County the District grew from 6,800 students to 26,000 with an annual budget of 426 million dollars. In addition to the PreK-12 program the school district also operated the Adult and Community Education Junior College for the community. Prior to this, I was the Director for Research & Reporting at the Office of Education Accountability in Atlanta, Georgia. I was also the Principal at the Cass Comprehensive High School in Cartersville Georgia, having started my career as the Director of Bands at the Hixson Middle/High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
2. From Florida to Cairo - how did the move happen?
I had always dreamed about living and working overseas and one day I saw an advertisement for the School Director position at AIS Egypt. I sent my materials in and in less than 30 minutes my phone rang and it was Mr. Walid Abushakra, Chairman of Esol Education. We had a fantastic conversation and spoke about many of the same experiences we have had over our careers. Then he said, “Bill, you are going to come and work for me.” We then set up a flight for me to visit the school in Egypt and I fell in love with the place. I was offered the job and all looked great. Unfortunately, after I returned home my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I had to call Mr. Walid and let him know I would not be able to come to Egypt. Since this was just a few months before school was to start I knew this was going to be a hardship on him and I figured he would not be very happy with me. However, the exact opposite happened. For the entire next eighteen months while my mother fought and ultimately lost her battle with cancer, Mr. Walid would call me weekly to check on us and to make sure we did not need anything. I was absolutely amazed at how much he cared for us especially since he did not know me that well and we had never worked together. After my mother passed away Mr. Walid was one of the first phone calls I made. I told him my mother had passed and I was ready to follow him and Esol Education anywhere on earth. For a person to be as caring as Mr. Walid I knew Esol Education had to be a special place to work and I wanted to be a part of an organization that valued people and their families. I agreed to a 30-year contract with Mr. Walid and I still have 23 years to go!
3. In your past seven years of living and working in Cairo and Dubai, what has been the most unforgettable experience?
The amazing opportunities I have seen our teachers create for our students encompass the most unforgettable experiences I have had. I love being with my staff and students and to experience the magical work my teachers achieve with our students every day is inspiring. I appreciate the fact that we do not only teach subject matter but we also help students learn how to be better humans with high moral character and integrity. Our staff in Egypt has been through difficult situations with two revolutions and unstable conditions and when life got difficult we did not give up, knowing that our mission was bigger than any one of us. My best experience with Esol Education was during the Professional Development Conferences in Dubai and Egypt - they were awesome!
4. After over 25 years, AIS Egypt is a Cairo institution, and many AIS alumni now have their children attending the school. What about the school, do you think, keeps people coming back?
People know that if they come to AIS they are going to receive a quality education, and that students will be prepared for college and life beyond. In the past four years 100% of the students in the IB program received their IB Diploma. These are fantastic results and it shows our teachers are well versed in what the students need to achieve to be successful in the IB program. In addition, I believe the focus our school has on developing our students’ character traits, as well as their academic abilities, is important to our families. AIS students leave us knowing the importance of being a caring human being and knowing the importance in being a good citizen and community member.
5. How are AIS teachers at the top of their game?
First, I would have to say, “When you've got the best you don’t need the rest!” Go AIS!!! We hire great teachers and then stay out of their way, except to offer assistance and guidance to reach our school goals. I believe giving teachers some autonomy allows them to grow and challenge themselves and the status quo at the school. Our teachers are extremely intrinsically motivated. They work together in grade teams and subject teams to develop lesson plans and unit plans. At AIS we also encourage the students to tell their story through written communication. Every teacher at our school understands the importance of writing skills both for themselves and their students. Our teachers constantly work to be content experts and expert presenters. They stay focused and expect their students to stay focused and engaged. We also have a culture at school where we are always visiting each other during classes through education walks. We take ideas from each other and “feedforward” ideas on how to improve.
6. What are the three achievements that you are most proud of at AIS?
- Keeping our teaching team together after the Egyptian revolution is something I will always remember and be thankful for. When the tanks rolled into Cairo I thought for sure we would never finish the year much less keep the school open. However, Esol Education evacuated us all safely to a 5 star hotel on the Red Sea. We posted lessons online for students to complete and we kept everyone focused and engaged. After eighteen days when we were scheduled to re-open school, and all my teachers returned, I remember standing in the main hall overcome with joy. We were back in action!
- Our IB scores are very impressive and I am excited that our students enter college prepared to do well. Our students are always returning to tell us college is easy compared to what they had to do in High School at AIS.
- Continuing our growth as a school is an exciting achievement to me especially with the challenges we have faced in the past. When I came to AIS we had 1400 students. We now have over 3000 students located on two beautiful campuses. It excites me that we are able to teach more kids every year. I have faith in my teachers’ talents and I know if a student is at our school we will make them better.