Q and A with American College of Sofia President Dr Richard Ewing
What, and who, has most influenced your educational philosophy?
The primary influence on my educational philosophy was the founder of the school where I worked as head of the school for over 30 years. She had hired me as a teacher and I taught there for three years. She knew all about multiple intelligences instinctively. She believed we should have a rich extracurricular programme, all the while ensuring our students would have a strong academic foundation. I would add that Emerson and his colleagues in the 19th century America were the intellectual offspring from which the American progressive education launched. The fundamental idea behind their approach to education is this: “Don’t show me you know something by reciting back to me what I told you. Prove that you know something by applying what you learned”. If you look at schools that have very traditional approaches and you ask the students what their favourite part about going to school is, they will usually talk about sports, art, music – the activities through which they express themselves. I think education should be performance space.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt about the education of children in the course of your practical experience?
I would say there are a couple of important lessons I have learnt about education. Here is one that I learned from the founder of my previous school: “School should be a place where kids leave in the afternoon and want to come back the next day”. The other important lesson I’ve learnt is that young people need our love most when they deserve it the least. There is always tension between making sure you have standards, and understanding that people make mistakes. You have to uphold standards, but in a supportive environment.
How do you see the place of ACS as you take over its leadership now?
I appreciate and value the unique characteristics, compelling history, and great story of the American College of Sofia. It’s a place with powerful presence and a vital student body. Having said this, I must say there is space for growth and development, and my biggest challenge is to execute successfully the project for the construction of a new Campus Center. The Campus Center Project involves the complete renovation of Ostrander Hall including the Whitaker Auditorium, and the construction of a beautiful new library and learning center, a student center, new cafeteria, and numerous other teaching and learning facilities. Once completed, we will have a truly exceptional and transformational new school building to support and advance the work of the College.
What changes do you see as needed and how do you intend going about this process?
We need to continue a process that is underway at this school of going towards formative assessment. I hope to engage in conversations about curriculum particularly in light of the new education law. I am hopeful with this new legislation we can find an even better way of bringing together American and European approaches towards education, Bulgarian and American curriculum. We are in a good position now to start asking questions and see what would make sense in terms of developing new curriculum for our students.
In your experience in Bulgaria so far, what do you see as the potential of its youth?
There is great potential! Bulgaria is in a state of transition. With emphasis on education, there will be great opportunities. Opportunities and resources follow where there is talent. The American College of Sofia can play an important role in the cultural, political and economic strength in Bulgaria. As an American citizen I hope that the development of co-operation between America and Bulgaria will continue. However, as Thomas Jefferson said, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. I think it is important not to take opportunities for granted.
How would you respond to someone who sees ACS as, especially financially, inaccessible?
It’s important that the public know we are committed to providing financial assistance. We wanted interested students to qualify by taking the entrance exam. We still expect parents to do their part: we want to provide the best possible opportunities, and these cost money. We also try to keep our cost down and provide significant financial aid. The tuition fee should not inhibit any talented student from being able to attend the College.
What are your overall impressions of Bulgaria so far?
Fascinating place, but I do not get it, because I do not speak the language yet.
What would you most like to hear a graduating pupil from ACS say to you at the end of grade 12?
I would want them to say that this has been one of the most demanding experiences of their life so far, and that they loved it, and they are eager for the next step. I want them to feel like they’re jumping off a trampoline, like they are being launched. School has to be demanding and liberating.
American College of Sofia President Dr Richard T Ewing has a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in history, from Yale College, a Master of Education from the University of Virginia and a Doctor of Education degree from Harvard University.
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