Rob Risch, Ed.D. Director, The International School of Belgrade 10 000: Education that makes a difference

Strong academics, experienced international faculty and commitment to service are some of the reasons parents and children have been choosing our school for seven decades. Our students report that they gain a better understanding of their place in the world and a feeling that they can make a difference.

The International School of Belgrade is an educational institution with remarkable history and achievements in our setting.

  1. This year, your school is celebrating its 70th anniversary. What is the secret of your longevity in this business?

Belgrade is a leading European city and has been for many years. At the conclusion of World War II there was a growing number of expatriate families locating to Belgrade as members of diplomatic missions and foreign businesses. These families were only in Belgrade for a limited period of time, and therefore having their children go to local schools was a difficult option. There was a recognized need for a school to educate the children of these families, and due to the diversity of the families themselves, the school providing such an education needed to understand and cater to the transient nature of this population. Since the founding of ISB in 1948, the need for this type of high quality education has continued and grown. Some of the principles that form the foundations of our school are using English as the language of instruction, following an internationally recognized and accredited curriculum, and highlighting and celebrating the diversity represented by the students from many nationalities attending our school. These elements have all remained consistent over the years and continue to be in demand for our parent population.

  1. What are the main reasons why parents and children choose your school?

One reason is the trust in our programs that comes with the successful 70-year history of our school. Another major factor is the diversity represented by our student and parent community. By celebrating this we help to foster an atmosphere that leads to an appreciation of diversity, open-mindedness, tolerance, and an international outlook where students truly view themselves as citizens of the world. Parents can also take confidence and assurance from our accreditation and authorization from multiple agencies: CIS – the Council of International Schools, NEASC – the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, IB – the International Baccalaureate Organization, and the Serbian Ministry of Education.

Academics are of course of primary importance for parents, and ISB has always focused on strong academics. At the same time, we embrace teaching methodologies that enable students to gain the skills to be able to apply their knowledge, and to critically analyse issues from various perspectives. ISB offers IB programs at all levels: PYP – the Primary Years Program, MYP – the Middle Years Program, and DP – the rigorous Diploma Program. Our parents and graduates also choose our school for our fully-developed university counselling program and successful history of graduates gaining acceptance to premium colleges and universities across the world.

Another main reason why I believe parents choose our school is because of our experienced, international faculty. Our teachers come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, with currently eleven different nationalities represented. The majority of our teachers are international educators with previous experience working in other international schools. In addition, our faculty is highly-educated with over 70% having obtained advanced degrees at the Masters or Doctoral levels. Most importantly, they all subscribe to our Mission and Philosophy that we inspire, equip, and empower our students to be active and enthusiastic participants in their own learning.

Something that sets ISB apart and is valued by parents and students is our commitment to service. The International School of Belgrade believes in making the world a better place through education. Our Mission Statement includes the premise that students will “…contribute positively to society.” ISB fully integrates this ethos into our teaching and learning. All students, regardless of age, participate in our Community Service Program. In addition to high academic rigor, having our students experience volunteer service in Belgrade and Serbia is a cornerstone of our curriculum. It is through service that students become more caring, open-minded and reflective, and develop more self-confidence and maturity. Our students report that they gain a better understanding of their place in the world and a feeling that they can make a difference.

Parents and students also choose ISB because we are the only school in Belgrade that is a member of the Central Eastern European Schools Association (CEESA). As a member of CEESA our Upper School students have access to a variety of international events and competitions across the continent. Our students travel to many major European cities to participate in a variety of events that include Choir festivals, Math competitions, Model United Nations, Speech & Debate and Knowledge Bowl tournaments, in addition to athletic tournaments in football (soccer), basketball, and volleyball. Our students return with new friendships and lifelong memories from these trips.

  1. How much has the educational process been changing along with the society and how do you adapt to this rapid development?

The increase in the amount of information that is available in the world today, compared to 70 years ago, is staggering. Educational knowledge in the past could be passed along to students by well-informed teachers in a much simpler and compact delivery. This is no longer possible in today’s world. Instead, our focus has transformed from teaching content to teaching conceptually. We now teach students how to learn, rather than what to learn. The emphasis is on skills, rather than facts. Students learn to gather information from various sources, and also gain the skills to analyze the relevance and reliability of the sources themselves. The information gathered needs to be critically reviewed and discussed with adults and their peers, inferences drawn need to be further examined from various perspectives, and conclusions viewed as subject to interpretation. Our students develop critical thinking skills and the ability to see different viewpoints and accept multiple solutions and outcomes. They also develop skills in working collaboratively, questioning each other and sources, as well as skills in presenting their learning in various multi-media formats.

  1. Every year, you hold an Open Day for parents interested in enrolling their children in your school. What importance does this dialogue have in establishing a connection between the school and its students?

On these occasions we prepare presentations by staff and students regarding our programs, and provide opportunities for prospective families to tour our facilities and visit classes. For parents and students who live locally but may not know much about our school, Open Day offers a chance to familiarize themselves with our programs at ISB. This year Open Day will take place on May 16, and this includes an invitation to also attend our Spring Fair on May 19. The Spring Fair presents a more informal opportunity for interested new families to truly gain a sense of our multi-cultural community with celebrations including a ‘Parade of Nations’, music, games, and food from all over the world.

  1. Back in the day, children of foreigners who lived in Serbia usually attended schools like yours. Now, this kind of schooling is becoming an increasingly popular choice among children from Serbia who want an internationally recognized education. How is this reflected in the way you present the school’s capacity?

We welcome students from all nationalities who have a desire to follow and contribute to our mission and core values. We currently have about 45 nationalities represented, and the Serbian community is among our largest. About 75% of our students represent countries other than Serbia, so our international composition is quite varied and we have maintained this ratio over the years. In any international school it is important to have a rich variety of nationalities, cultures, and languages, which ensures that no single way of thinking or acting dominates others. Many of our Serbian families join ISB for long-term commitments and help maintain an institutional memory that successfully blends elements from their culture with our international setting.

  1. What are your key goals in terms of the further development of educational and non-educational content?

In addition to our own internal ongoing review and revision of our programs and practices, we also engage in authorization reviews from the International Baccalaureate Organization (IB), and our accrediting agencies in Europe (CIS) and North America (NEASC). While the IB monitors curriculum and instruction, CIS and NEASC also examine our finances, facilities, governance and legal structures, and all other matters pertaining to high quality international education. By meeting or exceeding the standards and expectations that are explicitly listed and evaluated by visiting teams, and are part of the re-accreditation process, we provide assurance to all of our stakeholders that we continuously review, revise and improve our high standards.

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