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GOVERNANCE & POLICY
FIS Opts to Maintain Size Despite Brexit Exodus Demand
By Meadow Hilley, TIE Editor 23-Mar-18
In a Washington Post article published 6 January 2018, Head of School Paul Fochtman explained to journalists that the Frankfurt International School (FIS) has been getting a lot of attention of late from companies looking to relocate their employees to Germany in the wake of Brexit. Rather than grow to accommodate the hundreds of children likely to be affected by this surge toward the continent, however, FIS has opted to maintain its current size. Over the past six months, Fochtman estimates that he has spoken with executives at 15 or so different companies. Not all of them are financial institutions, though many are, and among the world’s biggest—Goldman Sachs, Nomura Bank, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank, to name a few. Then, in July of last year, talks really ramped up. Some companies were only looking to relocate a single family in view of setting up a new office in Frankfurt, a city of 733,000 inhabitants. But when others began making serious overtures, sending senior executives to explain in person that they aimed to bring 100 or 200 families to the area, the leadership at FIS realized it had some soul searching to do and formed a committee to study the situation. “It didn’t take too long for everybody to come to the consensus that we did not want to sacrifice the quality of the school just for the sake of growth,” explains Fochtman. “We don’t need to grow.” According to the Wall Street Journal article, the U.K. could lose as many as 30,000 finance sector jobs as a result of Brexit. Companies understand that a major factor in successfully orchestrating an exodus is ensuring the right conditions for the workforce slated to be relocated. Securing seats at top international schools for the children of these employees is key. While all of the Frankfurt schools are currently fielding inquiries, Fochtman explains, the majority have their sights set on FIS. These major corporations and powerful financial institutions are flashing large amounts of money at school heads, often offering to pay supplemental fees to sweeten the pot. However attractive these propositions may be for a leader who wants to provide his learning community with the very best resources, Fochtman insists that money isn’t everything. “That’s why, as a school, we have said we’re not going to grow,” explains the Head, who has been leading the FIS community since 2010. “We’re at a great size.” With a student body at 1,800, FIS currently exists on a single site where three-year-old children learn alongside twelfth-grade students in an idyllic setting. Due to the school’s “landlocked” location, growth would require moving the elementary school off campus. “To break that up would really diminish the phenomenal community we have. There’s no deal that has been offered that would make us rethink our identity.” Increasing the school’s size isn’t entirely out of the question, however a number of big pieces would have to fall squarely in place for the FIS Board to seriously consider such changes to its fundamental structure. The state itself would have to make a direct appeal, freeing up adjacent property, facilitating the planning and permitting process, and helping FIS to secure a long-term, no-interest loan that would allow the school to expand its footprint. Fochtman and his colleagues on the Board are unwilling to consider taking on such a monumental expansion project in the current political climate, however, as there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how Brexit will play itself out. Many of the organizations having expressed interest in sending the children of their employees to FIS are themselves in a state of flux, still at the stage of spinning scenarios and working from tentative plans. “I kind of feel sometimes like all this could just go away,” Fochtman confides. Even last week’s headlines in the British press claimed it was not too late to change course altogether on Brexit. Dealing with this degree of ambiguity when trying to lead a sizeable community of students, parents, and staff has been challenging, according to Fochtman. Talks might get very serious with an institution only to drop off suddenly. “If anything changes with Brexit, these organizations will turn around and go back to London, and they’re not going to be concerned about the viability of Frankfurt International School when they take off.” Members of FIS’s student-run TV station recently interviewed Fochtman, asking whether their class sizes were going to get bigger. He was happy to report that, rather than increase the school’s size, FIS has opted to engage a number of strategic accelerators over the next two years to improve the quality of its offerings. In addition to adding new programs for the upper school, FIS plans to significantly strengthen its counseling and coaching services.
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