With a nod to the past and an eye on the future, Head of School Peter Nilsson describes how King’s Academy is prioritizing progress to ensure its legacy continues for generations to come.
In January of 2007, I flew to Jordan at the invitation of founding Headmaster Dr. Eric Widmer. In between terms as a teacher and leader at Deerfield Academy, I was on a four-year hiatus in New York City to attend graduate school and perform in the city as a musician. That winter of 2007, when I came to the Madaba campus, the grass hadn’t yet grown, and the buildings were in the final stages of preparations, but the vision for King’s Academy was electric. Energy seemed to crackle in the air, and the prospect of the school was aglow, full of wonder, excitement and awe: what would a boarding school be like in Jordan? Would students come from around the world to study here? How would the AP curriculum work? Could we build bridges across differences marking every walk of life?
Now, 15 years later, King’s Academy is the premiere school in the Middle East. Students from Irbid to Aqaba, from Wadi Musa to Ruwaished, from Jeddah to Beirut, and from California to South Korea — and more — all attend school here. Flags of countries hang proudly in the Hess Family Dining Hall. Buses from governorates north and south arrive and depart weekly, ushering students to their dormitory rooms for the week. And after commencement, students from King’s Academy attend colleges on nearly every continent, from Ivy League Schools to aviation schools, from the London School of Economics to Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, from German Jordanian University to Princess Sumaya University for Technology. Alumni have entered politics, education, arts, entrepreneurship, architecture, technology, energy, and industries unimaginable even just ten years ago. Now, reading the school’s vision on the King’s Academy website no longer looks like a vision, it looks like a description.
What will the next 15 years of King’s Academy bring?
This is the purpose of our present-day strategic planning. And as part of that, this is the purpose of the surveys that were sent out to all stakeholders earlier this year. How can we build on the excellence established over the past decade and a half? How might we deepen our commitment to our students and to our mission? How can we grow the scope of our vision, and ultimately serve not only our students, but also Jordan and the world in even more meaningful and powerful ways? A truly excellent institution evolves, grows, gathers feedback, adapts and ultimately, continuously changes.
Several opportunities stand before us, and these are at the center of our work ahead:
Building on the strengths of our academic experience
At the heart of King’s Academy is our rigorous and rich academic program. In over 25 AP courses and through electives that allow students to discover and develop new areas of interest, King’s Academy has quickly established itself not only as a transformative experience for students that ignites a love of learning, but also as a launchpad to universities around the world. How might we continue to drive growth in our teaching and learning? How might we further connect our classroom work with real world problems, with the people and traditions of our country and region, with professional opportunities, and with new technologies that open students to new possibilities in work and life? Developing our curriculum and pedagogy to further draw on time-tested principles and practices while also engaging in cutting edge opportunities will be a key area for exploration.
Reaffirming our co-curriculars and strengthening athletics
King’s Academy’s daily co-curricular activities provide space and support for students to discover new passions and build character. In teams on the playing field, in ensembles on the stage, in model parliaments in the auditorium, and more, students develop new skills and deepen character traits like curiosity, resilience and grit. In our co-curricular blocks, students develop the character traits of young leaders: teamwork, continuous improvement, and more. How might we build on programs like KAMUN and Jordan Model Parliament? How might we expand our athletic offerings and set new standards of excellence for those in pursuit of high-level performance?
Deepening our commitment to residential life
Student growth is greatest when students have the opportunity for independence. This often manifests most in the dormitories, where students develop a newfound sense of responsibility. As one student once shared with me, “At home, when I leave my shirt on the floor and head to school, when I come back it is gone. But at school, when I come back, it’s still there. In the dormitories, I’ve learned it’s my responsibility to manage my time and space.” When they are responsible for their own studying, personal space, and nightly homework, students assume a new level of independence and self-determination. Since King’s Academy serves in loco parentis, we are deepening our commitment to the residential learning experience. How might we continue to better serve our students in the residence halls and the after-school hours?
Investing in internal infrastructure
As King’s Academy continues to grow as an institution, its physical infrastructure grows in importance, too. How might our technological infrastructure and data architecture grow to match the capabilities and opportunities of an emerging technological age? How also might we deepen our commitment to sustainability, matching our green energy grid with sustainable food and water systems? And how might our extraordinary physical campus further serve institutional needs and a growing body of stakeholders? These are just some of the questions driving the development of campus master planning exercises that will support and enhance emerging programs that serve our students and our mission.
Designing for long-term financial sustainability
King’s Academy’s commitment to enrolling students from all backgrounds is unparalleled in the region. And this diversity is a large part of what drives excellence in our classrooms and on our playing fields. In diverse classrooms, students encounter new perspectives and discover new ways of seeing. When students from different countries, different social groups, and different traditions and value systems come together, they learn that what makes us different makes us stronger. And in a community defined by difference, students develop stronger skills in listening, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. However, supporting, recruiting, and building a robust learning environment for a diverse student body requires significant investment. Further, amidst global economic conditions that put independent education models under stress, schools with a long view are rethinking financial sustainability models that lead to long-term health. In this context, we are examining not only what models will best serve the school in the next five years, but what financial sustainability models will serve the next 100 years.
Scaling impact in the country, region, and world
King’s Academy has always been more than just a school. In addition to being a model of what can be, it has been a driving force for change. It has built bridges between our students and students around the world through courses in Global Online Academy, between our teachers and teachers around the country through the Queen Rania Foundation’s Teacher Skills Forum, and between our school leaders and other education leaders around the world through professional networks. We have an obligation, based on our position in the Kingdom and the world, to serve a larger community than our own. How might we further scale our impact in service of our mission to “drive change towards a shared future of peace and opportunity”? How can we be a school not only for the 600 students fortunate enough to attend, but also a school for the country, for the region, and for the world?
At the heart of all of our priorities at King’s is our unceasing focus on the student experience: academic rigor, personal growth, and building bridges across difference. Our mission — His Majesty’s vision — compels us to develop and empower young leaders, and we do this through maintaining high standards of excellence and through cherishing one another in a community of students and teachers committed to respect, a love of learning, responsibility, leading integrated lives, and practicing global citizenship. Your input — as students, parents, alumni, employees, and the larger King’s Academy community — has already begun shaping priorities through our recent community survey. I look forward to further working with you as King’s Academy charts a future for not only the next fifteen years, but also for the next century and beyond.