Headmaster John Austin explains how the newly established Middle School represents a deepening of the school’s mission
Katie’s article nicely identifies a number of concerns regarding the Middle School, and I would like to summarize and address a few of them.
The campus cannot comfortably accommodate 600 high school students and 120 students in grade 7 and 8.
It would be interesting to conduct a study of the indoor and outdoor square footage that our students enjoy compared to other schools. Having visited many schools across the world, I suspect that if we studied this question we would discover that King’s has much, much more space than most schools. We are blessed with an extraordinary campus — dozens of buildings extending over 144 acres. Many visitors have remarked to me that, in its size and expansiveness, the campus feels more like a liberal arts college than a school.
As the idea of the Middle School was discussed, the general consensus was that we have more than enough space to add 120 students and grow the school downward into grades 7 and 8, and that we could do so without taking space from students in grades 9–12. Katie remarks that during “passing period” there seem to be “too many people in one place.” I take it Katie is referring to the Academy Building. This may be true, but it may not be a bad thing since physical proximity can lead to a stronger sense of community. It is worth noting, however, that at least as far as the Academy Building is concerned, the possible crowding Katie mentions is something we would have experienced regardless of the addition of the Middle School, which, as she notes, will be housed in a separate building. It is also worth noting that the Middle School will have a separate schedule and this will allow grade 7 and 8 students to use other facilities in the school (dining hall, auditorium) when they are not in use by older students.
Each of these shifts was in keeping with a number of not always easy to reconcile priorities: to situate offices in a way to support the effective operation of the school (and one another); to use our existing space to best serve our present students; to ensure that the students in grades 7 and 8 have a facility adequate to their needs; and to make sure staff and faculty have adequate working spaces — while also minimizing cost. There are, of course, trade-offs here but many, if not most, of these priorities have been achieved. The Learning Center and the Round Square Office are now closer to students, nicely situated in the largest of the three wings of the Academy Building; the UCO is closer to the Academy Building (and to students) in a lovely space in the library; and administrative functions that were at some distance from one another have been brought into closer proximity in what is now a beautiful office building.
The Middle School will strengthen social groups and cliques at the school, and increase divisions between students, particularly between the rising 9th grade students and those newly admitted to grade 9.
I believe we can work to ensure that the rising grade 9 students can come together with new grade 9 students to create a class that is diverse and strong in spirit, without the disfiguring presence of cliques. Rising grade 9 students can serve as buddies to new grade 9 students, and grade 11 and 12 students can serve as mentors, and big brothers and sisters to students in grades 7 and 8.
I share Katie’s general concern about cliques, a problem with which every school struggles. Much of what we do at King’s is designed to discourage cliques. That goal informs our admissions policy —we seek a diverse student body — and our approach to such things as House assignments and our family-style meals. In both, students and faculty are deliberately mixed. One of the great opportunities that King’s students enjoy, compared to their peers at other schools, is the chance to make friends across the boundaries of culture, nationality and religion. Given what is happening in the world today, that is a precious gift. (I was very pleased to see that in a recent alumni survey our graduates identified “open-mindedness” as the quality of mind — of the 15 polled — for which King’s best prepared them, with 89 percent of graduates responding that they were well or very well prepared for the diversity they experienced at colleges and universities.)
Students will (and should) always be free to make their own friends, but we need to do everything possible to combat cliques, especially when they work to make some students feel excluded and fragment the community.
How do we combat cliques? This, I believe, can only be accomplished by students themselves. Students are the best and only defense against cliques, and the unkindness and pettiness that sometimes emerges from them. I hope we can have a school without cliques, and I hope that as we welcome these younger students to our school next year we can embrace and, in the words of our mission, “cherish” them as part of the King’s family. I have always been impressed by the warmth and care with which we begin each year and the manner in which we welcome new families and students to the school, and I have no doubt that this will continue next year.
The Middle School, and the lack of a boarding program in the younger years, represents a departure from the founding blueprint of the school.
The Middle School certainly represents a departure from the original blueprint, since King’s was not originally envisioned as a 7–12 school but not, I would argue, from its vision and founding mission. The modest expansion of the school is consistent with the goals of its educational program and the school’s founding commitment to educational opportunity. In this way it represents a deepening of the school’s mission, not a departure from it.
There are many “high schools” both in the United Kingdom and the United States that begin in grade 8, and the 7–12 model is quite common. Indeed, it is both established and proven — not surprisingly. Beginning at grade 7 will allow King’s to introduce students to its values earlier, to create a more coherent and intentional educational program, and to provide students with a longer “runway” for success. That King’s will be able to serve more students and give the gift of a King’s education to more young men and women in Jordan is consistent with the founding vision and spirit of the school. Given our resources, the spaciousness of our campus, and our ambitions to educate generations of young men and women who will lead in a positive way, should we not share the opportunity of a King’s education more widely, if we can at the same time preserve the essential integrity and mission of the school?
On the question of boarding, I would say the following: we have not ruled out the possibility of a boarding program for younger students; the Board of Trustees, the body responsible for the governance of the school will study the possibility of a boarding program for younger students at some point in the future. King’s was founded as a boarding school, and it will remain a boarding school. My hope is that in the future more and more students will elect to board.
One thing is certain: schools evolve — or at least the best of them do — and King’s is committed to ongoing improvement. It is worth noting that Deerfield Academy has changed course many times over of the last century. In the early part of the 20th century it was a boy’s school with students living in the town. It later admitted female students and then slowly morphed into a full boarding school. In 1948 it reverted again to an all boy’s school and, finally, in 1988 Deerfield became fully co-educational. What is true of Deerfield is true of all great schools: they evolve to meet the times and develop new programs that align with their mission.
The Middle School will not be as diverse as the High School.
We will continue to seek diversity, since this is the lifeblood of the school. As Katie’s article makes clear, we will seek to preserve the socio-economic diversity of King’s by extending financial aid into the lower grades, and we will also welcome international students. Will there be fewer international students in the middle school than in grades 9–12? That is difficult to predict, but it is worth noting that Amman (as one of the last safe havens in the Middle East) is itself a diverse and cosmopolitan city. Not all of our “international” students, moreover, are full boarding students who live abroad. Many of our international students live, as it were, in our backyard. We have at present 28 international day students and 38 weekday boarding students (a majority of whom live in Amman) and they carry passports from 17 different nations and five continents.