Although renowned for its glimmering skyscrapers and vibrant city life, it is Hong Kong’s pockets of natural beauty that are the reason Ron Roukema fell in love with it. He likes to look out across the lush hills of Tai Tam down to its calm green waters where students from Hong Kong International School (HKIS), where he is Head of School, often take part in activities like kayaking.
Even though the region has been through upheaval over the past few years with the transfer of sovereignty to China and subsequent unrest, the decision to settle here is one he does not regret.
After leaving North Carolina in the US in order to give their children an incredible life experience, the Roukema family lived in Shanghai for several years, then did a stint in Paris before Ron was offered the chance to join HKIS in 2014.
“I remember coming to Hong Kong to visit the school and I really just fell in love with the possibilities,” he tells The CEO Magazine. The opportunity to explore an outdoor education, thanks to the school’s stunning location, was a large part of the appeal.
“We’re in the process of finding ways to do our units in real, authentic ways that make a meaningful difference to the environment and the community.” An ambitious expansion plan to extend the campus and enhance its facilities also helped ramp up the job’s allure. Plans were in place to transform the decades-old buildings into a new state-of-the-art school.
We’re in the process of finding ways to do our units in real, authentic ways that make a meaningful difference to the environment and the community.
“My role here has been to help make that development happen,” Ron says. While he had some experience overseeing renovations at his former schools, this project was on a different scale.
The new elementary school in Repulse Bay is already complete, with a HKD100 million (US$12.9 million) overhaul of the middle school taking place this year. The next step is a HKD1 billion (US$129 million) sport and activity centre.
“That is exciting in itself, but it’s actually the catalyst to being able to put new programs into the middle and high school,” Ron reveals. Moving the gyms and pool out of the main building will create space for a 1,000-seat assembly hall and larger technology labs and studios for art and design, which Ron describes as “more appropriate for today’s learning”.
The project has faced difficulties along the way, in part due to the school’s size, with 2,800 students from 1,800 families across 43 different nationalities. “Getting everybody to see the same vision is complicated, but I think we’ve been able to achieve that through a lot of communication and information,” Ron reflects.
“Some people want us to move faster, some people want us to move slower and some people wonder if this is the right time with all the political aspects that are going on in Hong Kong, but we believe it is the right time.”
This confidence is a huge part of the reason the school continues to flourish, with great word-of-mouth reviews continuing to attract students from both Hong Kong and further afield. Even as the pandemic disrupted learning during the lockdown, Ron and the rest of the HKIS team have rallied to devise ways to school the children remotely while keeping them engaged.
“We’ve seen such great mobility with the faculty able to pivot from one thing to another,” Ron reveals. “That has really helped us become more flexible and open to change.”
For example, the school is incorporating activities formerly undertaken after school, such as athletics and other clubs, into the school day. The HKIS team is an immense source of pride for Ron, not only because of how they responded to the COVID-19 crisis, but also because of their shared progressive outlook on academics and education, even in the face of adversity.
“It’s a real achievement to get the right people on the same page and moving forward together,” he beams. Sharing both the combined knowledge of the team and the school’s impressive facilities is a priority for HKIS going forward, with Ron’s overarching mission to help achieve “the greater good”.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school was running around six workshops each year for upwards of 150 teachers from Hong Kong and the wider region. In the post-pandemic world, it will open up its facilities to school groups, giving them access to the same environmental research and work as HKIS students.
“It’s about really making HKIS part of Hong Kong and developing it for the local Hong Kong community,” Ron says.
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