(Photo source: Association for the Advancement of International Education)
Rachel Caldwell has been selected as the recipient of the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) Superintendent of the Year.
According to AAIE, “This honor is a testament to her outstanding leadership, dedication, and exemplary service to the schools that Rachel Caldwell, currently Director at American International School of Bucharest, Romania, has served - as well as the international education community. The AAIE Superintendent of the Year Award recognizes leaders with exceptional leadership qualities, innovative educational approaches, and a commitment to fostering a positive learning environment for students and staff. Rachel’s tireless efforts in advancing her school, implementing successful initiatives, navigating incredibly tough times, and promoting a collaborative and inclusive culture have not gone unnoticed.”
Rachel’s career in education began over 30 years ago in an inner-city school in London. She began her work in international education in the Dominican Republic, followed by a school in Turkey. Afterward, she moved to Italy where she worked as Dean of Lower School at the International School of Turin. Since then, she has been the Principal of The International School of Milan- Monza Section, the Head of Primary/Deputy Head of School in a large international school in Southern China, the Campus Principal at the American International School of Johannesburg, and the Director of Pechersk School International Kyiv. Currently, she Director at American International School Bucharest.
According to their website, Laura Light, Executive Director of AAIE, interviewed Rachel about leadership.
When asked about her background in international education, Rachel replied:
“A diverse educational background and rich professional experience shaped my journey to becoming a school director. With a BA in English [and] Drama from Westfield College, University of London, and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education specializing in Multiculturalism from Avery Hill College, London, I work to bring a unique blend of artistic and educational expertise to my leadership roles. This creative background has influenced my leadership style, emphasizing the importance of constructing a dynamic and inclusive environment, much like the collaborative and transformative nature of theatre. My work as a school director at Pechersk School International in Kyiv, Ukraine, further demonstrates my commitment to refocusing strategic plans entirely on learning and establishing inclusive community processes, all of which mirror the collaborative and transformative aspects of theatre. In addition, the ability to navigate and lead through crises draws parallels to my passion for theatre, where the capacity to manage unexpected situations and inspire collective resilience mirrors the skills required in the role of a school director. My journey to becoming a school director has been inspired by the privilege of working with three outstanding school directors whose caring, open, honest, and determined approaches had a profoundly positive impact on the community and student learning compared to others; impacts that I aspire to emulate."
Rachel was also asked about her leadership style:
"My leadership philosophy is centered on creating a collaborative, caring, and growth-oriented organizational culture. I emphasize the importance of developing a strong school community involving all community members in the school improvement process. My approach is based on trust-building, transparent communication, and promoting community relations. My leadership is characterized by a focus on well-being, happiness, and growth. I value the potential of strong school governance to improve organizational performance and I believe in the significance of clear strategic direction. This leadership approach is deeply rooted in the core values of relationships, trust, openness, service, bounded optimism, and deliberate calm. I work to emphasize the importance of developing strong relationships through trust, being accessible to students, staff, and parents, and of co-creating a positive and supportive environment where everyone feels that they belong."
Laura noted in her interview, “As our community knows, Rachel has faced some challenging times, specifically when she was Head of School at Pechersk International School. Rachel navigated these times outstandingly.”
When asked about this time of leadership journey:
“From October 2021, with tensions rising significantly, the leadership team and Board of Governors at PSI, Kyiv united to prepare for the worst while always hoping for the best. One concrete response was to create a customized business development and evacuation plan with the assistance of external experts. This was viewed as an investment in our future and proved invaluable. We were also prepared on a human level; unified board members presented a united front to the community. Clear, frequent, and honest communications were sent in the name of the school director and board chair. We encouraged dialogue to ensure understanding, and the importance of the strategic vision and core values was emphasized, aligning our actions and words with these well-known values, which include Trust, Honesty, Joy, Inclusion, Agency, and Courage. This preparedness built community confidence in our ability to respond and trust in our approach. It also helped to maintain a sense of calm.
The most critical leadership steps taken to successfully meet the learning needs of students at the American International School of Bucharest (AISB) and the previous school, PSI, Kyiv, included building an organizational culture of care and respect, investing in trust and relationship-building, and providing clarity around moral purpose and expectations. At PSI, the revised Mission and Vision Statements were pivotal in maintaining a stable and inclusive learning environment. The emphasis on personalized learning and the pragmatic approach to ensuring continuity of learning for all students through the employment of numerous educational programs meant that studies were virtually uninterrupted following the outbreak of the full-scale war in Ukraine. The unwavering commitment to students' voices being heard, valued, and applied to decision-making was instrumental in ensuring that learning remained at the center of our endeavors despite the horrors of the war. Specifically, one of our outstanding student’s MYP [Middle Years Program] Personal Projects focused on entrepreneurship during a time of war. This student demonstrated extraordinary determination and courage and, despite ongoing air raids in Kyiv, presented to her audience (students in a national Ukrainian school) with confidence and poise. She continues to be a true inspiration."
Rachel will be honored at the upcoming Global Leadership Conversation/Conference in New York.