GRAMERCY — Each week, DNAinfo.com talks to a principal from one of Manhattan's schools. This week, it's Yves Rivaud, 55, head and co-founder of the Ecole Internationale de New York, which opened two years ago. In the interview below, Rivaud discusses his career in bilingual education and his goals for the French-American elementary school located at 111 E. 22nd Street, near Park Avenue.
Q: Where are you from originally?
YR: I am originally from France. Obviously you can hear it with my accent. My hometown is Limoges, which is in the central part of France, and it’s very famous for the porcelain industry.
I left my hometown of Limoges exactly 24 years ago. I went to California and I was a French teacher at a French-American school at Berkeley.
[After eight years] I moved to San Francisco. I stayed for 14 years in San Francisco, working in three French-American international schools. And then I moved to Seattle for two years, I became the head of school of the French-American school.
And then I arrived in New York City eight years ago, 2003, to take the headship of another French international school in Manhattan [Lyceum Kennedy].
After my six years over there, Clyde [Javois] and I founded and created this new school, the Ecole Internationale de New York.
We opened the school in September 2009, two years ago.
Q: What was the inspiration for this school?
YR: There was a huge demand for French-American bilingual education in Manhattan.
Q: Why do you think there is that demand?
YR: New York is very international, obviously. You have many young parents who are coming into New York because they just got a new job… and they want their young child to be exposed to French education, which is still very prestigious. And not only that, but when the child is exposed to a foreign language at a very early age, we know that the child will become bilingual very quickly.
And then of course it can definitely shape out their future, not only as a student, but as a professional person.
Q: You are fluent in three languages, French, Spanish and English. Were languages always your strongest subject?
YR: I started English when I was entering middle school, so I was about 11 at that time. I had great teachers. I became very interested in the English language and Spanish at the same time.
And then of course I went to England a few times as an exchange student, as a tourist, as a teacher. After a while, when I started to teach and work after my university time, I thought about the U.S. because I knew that, in the U.S., they had many schools where they were teaching French and English.
At that time, 24 years ago in France, we didn’t have bilingual schools over there. Bilingual schools did not exist in France, especially not where I was living in Limoges.
Q: Did you go to public or private schools?
YR: I’m a product of public schools in France. Limoges being a very small town, the public schools over there were very good. And then I went to public college, which was a very good college, you know, very cheap compared to U.S. colleges.
Q: Do you remember ever failing a test or were you a troublemaker in school?
YR: No, I was a good student. I was definitely not a troublemaker, definitely not.
Q: Did you have a nickname?
YR: No, in France they don’t do nicknames. So I was plain “Yves.”
Q: Was there one teacher in particular who was formative in your education?
YR: I go back to my English teacher. She was the mother figure, so to speak, and she definitely cared for each of the students in the classroom.
She was organizing exchange programs with a British school and British families. She wanted me to participate all the time because I was a good student, so she wanted me to make the most of it.
I guess she believed in me.
I kept in touch with her for many, many years. She was a very sweet lady. She was the kind of lady who definitely made an impression on your life — not only school life, but she probably was a part of me going to Great Britain and then going to the States. Because if I had hated English, I wouldn’t be here today.
Q: How has the Ecole Internationale de New York evolved since it opened?
YR: We started from a very small family school. We started with 22 kids two years ago. September 2009, we had 22. September 2011, we have 120.
We have eight classrooms, which is one classroom per grade. And we have about 16 to 18 students per classroom. And we don’t want more than 18 because we want the teachers to work very closely with the students so they have very personalized instruction, so to speak. Each classroom has a French and an American teacher.
Q: Over the next five years, do you see the school expanding?
YR: We are already thinking about expanding into an international middle school in two years, in September 2013, because the parents are so happy they want us to move up and keep their children inside at the school. They don’t want to go anywhere else. They are asking us more and more, “When are you opening a middle school?”
So we are starting to plan the whole thing for 2013.
Q: What’s been the most challenging decision that you’ve had to make?
YR: Well, it was first to think and create the whole new school, actually. We planned this new school for two years. So we started in 2007, and it opened in 2009. And if you remember, in the meantime, the collapse of the economy in September 2008 did not help. So we became very scared, but we were lucky to have great connections.
So it just delayed the process by one year. But when you believe in something, it’s America and New York, so anything’s possible. You just have to be patient.
Q: Have you gotten a sense of the kind of impact that you or your school has had on the students?
YR: I’m sure it’s going to shape their whole lives and their future in middle school, high school and definitely in college. I have no doubt about it.
The faculty and us, we are very proud of them. We give them very strong bases and very strong moral values.
Q: What’s your favorite aspect of working in education?
YR: My favorite part is to interact with people every day, to see the smiling faces of young students every day, and to see them evolve, change, improve, learn languages every day and especially to see their progress from September to June. It’s amazing. It’s absolutely amazing.
Read more of DNAinfo.com's Principal Of The Week interviews here.