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Dwight School Mission Balances Global Vision with Homey Atmosphere

By Emily Frost | June 3, 2013 7:53am
 The independent school at West 89th Street and Central Park West programs in London, Canada, and the newer campuses in China and Seoul.
Dwight School Experiencing a Renaissance, Head of School Says
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UPPER WEST SIDE — When Dianne Drew became the new head of Dwight School in 2011, she was stepping into a community with a long legacy — the independent pre-K through 12 school had been open nearly a century and a half.

And after teaching across the globe — in Asia and Australia, where she's from, and in Manhattan public schools — Drew said she was a little nervous about what a selective, historic private school in New York City would feel like.

But, she said she immediately felt at ease when she joined the school's ranks, and she feels grateful every day she was invited to lead the school.

"When I came to Dwight I found a home," she said. "You could see the community here was a family." 

Drew's reach goes beyond the school's New York campus at West 89th Street and Central Park West. She's the executive director of the programs in London, Canada, and the newer campuses in China and Seoul. And she oversees the International Baccalaureate programs of 110 schools in the Northeast, the majority of which are in public schools. 

"I am in many ways on a 24-hour clock. I'm accessible 24/7," she said of working with staff across the globe.

But she said she doesn't mind late-night calls because she's passionate about her work. 

"I found my fit. I get a thrill when I hear the sound of the Skype call, even if it's midnight," she said. 

And her night owl tendencies will come in handy with the birth of her first baby in September, Drew admitted. 

In the past few years, Dwight, which is celebrating its 140th anniversary, has expanded and renovated its buildings. It is about to open a new athletic center in Harlem. 

Dwight's tuition ranges from $37,000 – $38,000 a year for kindergarten to 12th grade, and the school offers financial aid and a payment plan.

"Our school has really gone through a renaissance," Drew said. "Everybody is on a high."

Drew sat down with DNAinfo to talk about her vision for the Upper West Side school and what sets it apart from a crowded field. 

Q. How does the international student body — with one third of the students from abroad — influence the school community?

A. The community has adapted itself to be flexible and to include students. We have a lot of layers of support. We have a lot of mentoring. We have strong orientations. We have buddy systems. The parents have an ambassador system. When I came here, I felt a warmth of character from the students immediately. There was an absolute sense of acceptance. There was a strong sense of camaraderie. The students find joy here. I see teenagers happy in the morning and I'm pushing them to go home at 5 or 6 [at night]. Even on Friday afternoon, I'm literally pushing them out the door. 

Q. How has your extensive and global teaching history informed your work?

A. I'm very passionate about learning about [different] curriculum. I push my faculty to think beyond our four walls. I draw upon my experiences. I draw upon what I've learned in Japan and other places and the sense of camaraderie that those places saw as essential. And I'm passionate that our faculty have overseas experiences. We have one teacher who is going to teach in London for a couple years, for example.

Q. You now have Dwight campuses in London, Canada, China and Seoul — what benefits does that global network convey?

A. There's a great ability to see what opportunities exist for the students and also our faculty. We see students going to China and Seoul [Dwight campuses]. We do from long to short stays in London — a year or two. We have cultural exchanges. We just had our school in London send their grade five here for a week and ours went there.

Q. How does your International Baccalaureate curriculum set you apart?   

A. We like to say [the IB] is vigorous rather than rigorous. It has demanding subject matter. We're offering a much bigger expanse with [the IB] curriculum. We're really living what we say we do. The reason we love it so much is it looks at the whole child. The IB asks students to be open-minded, to be a risk taker, to be an inquirer. It goes beyond academic prowess. Beyond that is an insistence that community is key. If we can teach you that, you will become a global citizen. 

We're the only school that does the full continuum of IB [in New York City.] Once you've got an IB score [upon graduation], it allows you to go to any university in the world. That's one of the beauties of the IB. 

Q. Do you face a lot of fundraising pressure as Head?

A. My job is focused on steering the ship rather than raising money. I think the chancellor wants me to focus on the kids, parents and community. My directive has always been follow the mission of the school and make it the best it can be. I've never felt pressured to spend any length of time [fundraising]. 

Q. One of the mottos of the school is "igniting a spark of genius in every child," — what does that mean?

A. If a child has a passion, it will transcend everything else they do in life. If we can find that passion in music, chess, sport, gardening, they'll find confidence. Our mission is to help a child find a spark of genius with support by showing them the different options or to continue to promote and support what they already have. 

Q. What's next for Dwight internationally?

A. Perhaps other schools in China. We have to find places that want our vision. We want to make it work...maybe South America or the Middle East. I get up to eight emails a week from all over the world [with expansion propositions.] We're careful to make sure it's advantageous for our current students.