ISKL's High School Principal, Jeff Farrington, tells School Advisor how the school encourages its students to 'Be All You Are'.
The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) has been at the forefront of the American curriculum system since its inception in 1965, serving Klang Valley-dwelling families a chance to experience a holistic yet challenging education, preparing ISKL’s students, fondly known as Panthers, with an edge to Be All You Are and aim for the stars.
But at the heart of the school is the educational leaders, of which Jeff Farrington plays a huge role to ensure the academic excellence and success of ISKL’ High School students. He became ISKL’s High School Principal in 2016 and has been at the forefront of American education ever since then.
School Advisor had an opportunity to conduct an email interview with Mr Farrington to learn about his life in Malaysia and his role in ISKL.
Mr Farrington has been living in Malaysia since 2014 to join ISKL, but the school came under his radar in 2004, thanks to ISK’s strong academic reputation and welcoming school climate. “I have come to love the culture and the people of Malaysia,” the Principal said. “Malaysia has immensely enriched the lives of my family. Our entire impetus for seeking to move here was to immerse ourselves in a richly diver culture.”
On top of the activities the Farrington family partake in their spare time -- the jungle, rock climbing, kindling with the animals, enjoying fantastic food and the beaches -- the diversity at ISKL attracted them to stay.
He first visited Malaysia for an interview at ISKL. He joined an assembly at the school in conjunction with the Global Action Program, full of the glitz of the band, but what impressed him was the supportive student body who stood in ovation and applauded the performers. “At that time, I made the decision that this is the type of school I would like to put my boys in. I wanted to be a part of this community.”
Being at ISKL, he has experienced a culture of care and empathy every day. “Students are in a safe environment to take risks. When things don’t go the perfect way, other students support them. They pick them up, celebrate them, and cheer them on.”
With nearly 30 years of experience in education, Mr Farrington is also the winner of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), an American-based organization, and was named the Principal of the Year for 2021.
Mr Farrington is NASSP's Principal of the Year 2021
His vision and mission align with ISKL. “My role as a High School Principal is to ensure a focus on student development and implement innovative strategies that maximize each learner’s achievements.” The school has been on a journey to become a fully inclusive school by implementing a non-selective admission process. Taking the students’ abilities and needs into consideration has helped Mr Farringron and ISKL to grow and develop better protocols and procedures to meet those needs.
The basis of the culture ISKL creates stems from Theodore Roosevelt: ‘Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you are,’ and every year, he makes a point to tell his students, ‘I don’t create the culture at ISKL; you do’ and ‘When you’re at school, your peers and teachers know that today is going to be better because of you.’
He shares a quote from a High School senior: ‘There are so many facets to school, yet you still place so much emphasis on student welfare. I will leave this place with this image of ISKL in my mind: a place that deeply cares for its students, always has our best interest in mind and strive tirelessly to support us.’
The school does not disappoint. ISKL uses a 7-point grading scale with clearly defined performance descriptors for each level, ensuring that teachers can align feedback mechanisms ly assess students’ learning process accurately. “We removed the practice of averaging scores and rely on teacher’s more accurate judgement based on ‘the most recent and most relevant’ learning evidence’,” he wrote.
ISKL focuses on students' well-being and ensuring they can grow into confident individuals.
Mr Farrington believes in encouraging students to contribute positively to their High School development and become the ‘architect of their own experiences.’ A survey was done and 96% of the students stated that they enjoyed school, and 93% of the students felt physically safe. In addition, 94% have reported having moderate or high self-esteem.
ISKL takes care of students’ social and emotional development. The school is equipped with 5 counselling team members and a school psychologist, all working together towards one goal: ensuring students’ well-being is being taken care of to accomplish ISKL’s learning goals. “We monitor students’ stress [levels], sleep, happiness, and workload. We establish student life meetings to intervene with struggling students and our partnerships with the Institute of Social and Emotional Learning (IFSEL) and PrePare, a school crisis prevention and intervention program, to augment our focus on well-being and safety.”
Apart from the top-notch approaches to protect students’ mental health and safety, the education at ISKL is something to be shout about.
ISKL offers High School students multiple graduation pathways to “enhance our commitment to meet the needs of each child,” said Mr Farrington. The school offers International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program and Advanced Placement (AP) courses which are enhanced in several ways: the Life-Centered Education Program for students who require it, the PRAXIS program for 9 and 10 Graders, and the Pursuits Program for students in Grades 11 and 12.
These programs help students to learn via real-life, hands-on application, where they are able to flexibly personalise their learning to fit the individual student.
Mr Farrington with ISKL's High School Graduates
Despite the 2-year turbulent due to Covid-19, ISKL’s largest-ever 114 IB cohort continued ISKL’s long-tradition of exceeding worldwide averages on their IB Diploma results. He writes, “The fact that it has been such a turbulent year with Covid-19 and MCO enforcements in Malaysia showed how resilient our Panthers could be in a challenging environment.
“Despite the challenges of these past 18 months, our teachers’ focus on students’ emotional well-being and academic success remained high. While only one measure of our program, our recent IB result reflect the impact of this school-wide dedication.”
Mr Farrington’s plans for the future is never fruitless. His team will continue to plan all scenarios for the 2021-2022 school year while keeping academic and students’ well-being as their top priorities. “We long to return full-service operations as we slowly reinstitute athletics, activities, global action, and service-learning as core features of our High School experience.”
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