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Bangkok Faces: Founding Head of School at Mandarin International School

Mandarin Head of school

Mandarin International School will open their doors in Thailand in August 2021, in a highly developed and popular commercial area. The school campus size is 13,200 square meters. It systematically provides continuous, high-end Chinese international courses for Thai, Chinese, and foreign students from kindergarten to high school. The school is staffed with many outstanding Chinese, American, British, and Thai teachers.

Mandarin International School is founded and financed by Thailand’s Asia International Education Group, a subsidiary of the Cunjin Education Group. It has been approved and recognized by the Office of Private Education Committee of the Ministry of Education of Thailand, as well as the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Thailand. MIS is the first and only large, high-end international school with internationally recognized academic qualifications in Thailand to conduct all teaching in Chinese, with courses fully in-line with the Chinese curriculum, while also offering international English courses. In our Bangkok Faces interview we hear from Karl Meneghella the founding Head of School at Mandarin and his aspirations for the school.

What is Your Name and Nationality?

My name is Karl Meneghella and I consider myself Australian. My father emigrated to Australia in the 1950s. HIs background was Italian and German,with an Austro/Hungarian influence further back. My mother was born in Australia with English and French heritage. Now, while I appreciate my mutt-like ancestry, I do consider myself Australian, as that was where I was born and grew up; however, the Italian sense of La Dolce Vita flows through my veins. (Along with an appreciation of vino rosso della casa!)

What is Your Profession?

I am an educator and have been in education since 1983 (yes, I am that old). I have worked in several countries in a variety of roles including, classroom generalist, subject specialist teacher, curriculum advisor, school principal, school director of curriculum and now, I am the founding headmaster at Mandarin International School.

What are the Key Skills and Responsibilities of This Role?

I believe one of the most valuable traits I bring to the role is being empathetic to the needs of teachers and providing educational leadership. I resource them, support them and then get out of their way so they can concentrate on creating meaningful student engagements. I believe in the old adage, “the buck stops here” and educationally, it stops in my office. A principal has to be able to wear two hats. The first is to accept responsibility for the educational integrity of the school and the second is to create sustainable links between the school and the community. Another aspect of the job is coaching. I am a certified executive coach and I have a great appreciation of the power of coaching. Not only do I coach my team, I have a coaching partner who I meet with on a regular basis to bounce ideas off and to share thoughts, fears and insights with.

How Did You Get Involved in Your Profession?

I left high school when I turned 16 (you could do that then). I never really felt a sense of ‘belonging’ in high school and, except for one single teacher in primary school, school was not a highlight in my life. Being from a working-class family, I went straight into the workforce. I started an apprenticeship at the railways… and failed. I worked as a brickie’s labourer… and failed. I went to sea for 2 years on a commercial fishing boat as a ship’s cook and while I enjoyed it, it was really more about escapism. I tried working in a variety of odd jobs, until I found myself, at 21 years of age, with no sense of direction or purpose. 

I knew I wanted to do something, something meaningful and rewarding. I needed something more, but I didn’t know what it was. During a period of quiet reflection, I thought about my time as a young student. In grade 3. I was lucky to have an inspirational teacher named Mr Macintosh, he was funny, he encouraged me, and he listened to me. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming sense of ‘purpose’. I wanted to be a teacher! I needed to be a teacher!

I applied for a place as a mature-aged-student and completed a 4-year Diploma. I had found my ‘calling’ I was a classroom teacher, and over the next couple of years, I found myself not only loving teaching, but more importantly, I fell in love with learning. This was the 80s, long before the term ‘lifelong learner’ was being bandied about. Before I knew it I was back in university enrolled in another degree. I would attend campus at night after school and it became a lifelong habit that still gives me a sense of purpose and a raison d’etre. I now have numerous certifications and 6 degrees including a Ph.D. that I completed a couple of years ago while teaching at KIS International School.

How Does Your Role Enhance the Wellbeing or Experience of Children?

That memory of my time in Grade 3 has never diminished. Being in the classroom is where I am most comfortable, and that is what guides my deployment of teachers and resources. How can we create a sense of ownership between the children and their classroom? How can we make their experience memorable? How can learning be more engaging, relevant and inspiring? I guess my role now is guiding and supporting teachers in creating these wonderful learning environments that I cherished as a young boy.

What Challenges Do You Face in This Role?

We are a brand-new school. We have no track record, no alumni, no history and no corporate culture. On the other hand, we have nothing to unlearn. We have nothing to fix or change. We are blessed with a completely ‘blank slate’. What brought me out of retirement was the chance to start something new, something exciting and something to be proud of. The challenge is threefold. First, I needed to find great teachers. Secondly, we will probably be opening to the necessary reality of online-learning if the Covid situation does not improve. Online learning is valid, but it needs to be more than just ‘online delivery’ of lessons. It needs to be interactive, fun, engaging and rigorous. Lastly, we need to create and build a sense of team with a ‘bunch of strangers’ who up until this year, did not know each other.

What Do You Hope to Achieve Within Your Industry?

To be recognised for our unique blend of the Chinese curriculum, Chinese STEAM and UK National Curriculum being woven together in a way that provides more than just language acquisition. We want to provide opportunities for children to master nuance and language in a variety of applications such as math, science, language, and history.

Who or What Inspires You?

Simple; Leonard Cohen! I mean seriously, who aspires to make a living being a poet nowadays? No one! He was already ancient (in a pop-star-type world) when he released his first album at 30+ years old. He wrote books of poetry and a few novels. A critic once described one of his novels as “the most revolting book ever written”, but Cohen persisted. He wrote, he performed and gradually other artists, some more famous and/or more mainstream and popular, started covering his work as well. He aamassed a small fortune, only to have it stolen from him while in exile as a Buddhist monk, and then again, he reinvented himself. “To Dylan, a song was a lump of wet clay to be moulded before it sets fast; to Cohen it was a slab of marble to be chipped into shape with immense dedication and care. Cohen never stopped being a poet or lost his reverence for words.” Leonard was still selling out concert halls and performing his much-loved songs into his 80s! RIP LC.

Only a Bangkok Local Would Know…

Tucked in a tiny soi down from Rama 9 Soi 11 (aka La Défense) is a luthier who makes world class guitars. Shane, of Alecia Guitars, is a craftsman in every sense of the word. So, if you want to entrust your acoustic Martin, classical Alhambra, electric Fender or any other top-shelf guitar to someone for a repair or modification, see Shane!

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