Shawn Hutchinson: the New Principal of ACG Jakarta

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ACG Jakarta’s new principal Shawn Hutchinson is a career educator with 23 years of experience. Prior to his appointment in Jakarta he held senior positions in schools in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, China and Vietnam, and his mission as he settles into his latest post is to maintain the excellent reputation of ACG Jakarta while improving and updating the school’s services wherever possible. Indonesia Expat sat down with him just after his arrival in July to talk about his goals, the school and the future of education in general.

IE: Welcome to Jakarta Shawn. Please tell us something about yourself and where you come from.
SH: I’m originally from Adelaide and I’m a country lad at heart having grown up in the riverland of south Australia. I spent my early career teaching English and special education in state and private schools in south Australia and moved fairly quickly into leadership roles in various departments. I’ve been in leadership positions for 18 years now and I’ve been with ACG Education for eight years. On an international level I spent time in Tokyo as principal of an international school there and then I joined ACG in Vietnam as the founding head of the secondary school. After Vietnam I went to Beijing where I was Secondary Principal of an IB world school, and after that I was appointed principal of a new ACG school in Tauranga on New Zealand’s north island. After that the opportunity to come to Jakarta came up and I was very pleased to accept the challenge and get back to Asia.

IE: What are your plans for the ACG Jakarta campus?
SH: First of all I want to grow and develop the school and its reputation, and make sure that we align well with ACG Education values. We are very much part of an organisation that believes wholeheartedly in excellence in education, quality of service and providing a holistic education for young people.

IE: Tell us something about ACG Education
SH: ACG Education is the largest provider of private education in New Zealand. We own and operate seven schools, five in New Zealand and two in Asia, one in Vietnam and the other here in Jakarta. Our three schools in Auckland are the top three ranked independent schools in New Zealand. We also own and operate pre-schools and offer vocational training in hospitality, tourism and business. In addition, we deliver university foundation programs for the University of Auckland, Auckland University of Technology and Victoria University in Wellington. The company was founded in 1995 by two professional educators, Sir John Graham KNZM, CBE, the famous New Zealand rugby player and previous Head of Auckland Grammar School, and Dawn Jones CNZM. Their goal was to create a private school not affiliated with any religious organisation that was focused on academic excellence while providing students with the personalised care and support they need to achieve their best.

IE: Why do you think ACG appointed you as principal of the Jakarta campus?
SH: I think some people see me as someone who enjoys taking on challenges. I think ACG Jakarta has tremendous potential and it has done some great things in its history in a very challenging environment. I’m really excited about being here with my family and I’m really keen to continue growing and developing the school, not just in terms of numbers but also in terms of the quality of the educational programs we offer and understanding the needs of the children and their families.

IE: Are your wife and children as happy to be here as you are?
SH: My wife is from Japan and my two daughters have lived most of their lives overseas attending international schools so we are all used to the expat life. My older daughter is 15 and is very much interested in the International Baccalaureate program here at ACG and she’s very excited to be part of that for the next couple of years. My younger daughter likes to experience new things and both of them are very open minded so living here and studying at ACG will suit them well. They are very much international kids with global mind sets so they should adapt very quickly. My wife and I came to Jakarta in February to have a look around so she’s well prepared for the challenges of living in Jakarta. Obviously the traffic is not one of the city’s best features but I’m sure we’ll learn to live with it. My wife is a freelance writer and event manager so hopefully she’ll pick up some work here as well, but we’ve only been here four days so far so the focus is on getting the apartment organised and making sure the kids are happy.

IE: Do you think being an expat dad yourself and having your children at your school gives you an advantage as school principal?
SH: On one hand being a principal is about being that pedagogical leader, that person who is driving innovation and quality of education and making sure that the faculty is behind your vision, and on the other hand its about the service side of the job, understanding what our students and their families want and need. I think finding that balance is critical in creating a positive culture at the school. So yes, seeing the school through a father’s eyes and listening to the opinions of my family helps me to balance what students and parents need with the needs of the school administration and the faculty.

IE: How is ACG adapting its offering to the needs of modern students?
SH: ACG places great emphasis on innovation. We need our teachers to be passionate and innovative and we need them to adapt and be flexible, but most important of all we need them to understand the child – not the class. We need them to understand each individual child and how each child best learns in the classroom. We actively seek and encourage teachers who can strike that nice balance between the art of teaching and the science of teaching. We look for teachers who first and foremost build relationships with students, understand the curriculum, understand the qualification that the students are working towards and then find ways that they can best support them in that journey.

IE: What is the make-up of the ACG faculty here in Jakarta?
SH: We actually have a very diverse teacher population here. We have teachers from the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and teachers’ assistants are suitably qualified Indonesians. We look after our teachers very well at ACG and that’s crucial to retaining the best talent in this education landscape.

IE: What are your thoughts on the homework debate?
SH: I think if a child needs a couple of extra hours of practice in any subject then there is no harm in them doing it at home. A couple of hours reading a book to enhance language skills is always a good idea, but at the same time it’s important to get children out into the fresh air as often as possible and get them involved in sports and other activities. I also advise parents to have their children do homework in the common areas of the house like the kitchen table. By doing this they spend more time with the family and they feel less isolated as they study.

IE: How do you feel about social media and its role in the lives of young people?
SH: I think social media can be really harmful for young people if it is not managed properly. We spent the last four years at ACG New Zealand educating students about online safety, proper social media usage and how much screen time they should have. We also educate parents and teachers because whether we like it or not, social media is a factor and most students will arrive at school with some kind of screen. We allow students to keep their devices with them, but we do not allow them to use them during lessons. I am very passionate about the use of technology in the classroom, but I believe it needs to be carefully directed in the early years. When the students get older they should have a better idea of when and how to properly use technology as part of their study.

IE: What is ACG’s policy on bullying?
SH: We have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and harassment. I feel very strongly about this because I believe as a parent you need to know that your child can go to school and feel safe. Children should be able to be themselves at school and feel comfortable in their own skins, knowing that there is a community there that supports them and cares for them.

IE: What would you say to parents to make them choose ACG over other schools in Jakarta?
SH: I would tell them that ACG School Jakarta is a safe place, it’s a caring place, it’s a place where your child will be listened to, and it’s a place where parents will be welcomed as part of the community. I welcome input from parents and I like to be in direct contact with them. We have lots of coffee mornings, lots of information sessions and lots of events and activities involving parents all designed to make everyone feel they are a part of the ACG family.

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Indonesia Expat is Indonesia's largest expatriate readership (formerly known as Jakarta Expat and Bali Expat)