Overseas Opportunities For Nobles by Bob Henderson, Head of School
A few days ago my “Google Alert” sent me an email with links to a couple of articles that had appeared in the English-language Korean press about Noble and Greenough School. Opening those stories, I was surprised to read the interpretation that we are about to open a campus in that country. The reality is significantly more modest, although it is true that we have been engaged for the last several months in conversations with the Jeju Free International City Development Center (the JDC), from Jeju Island in South Korea. We have been exploring what it might mean to have a second campus there. A day after these stories appeared, a student came up to me on the sideline of a game and asked me, “Mr. Henderson, can you tell me about our secret school?” So I thought it would be important in this forum, for the sake of transparency, to give a little background and explain what this exploration does, and what it definitely does not, mean.
First of all, you should know that we have not made any commitment other than to study the idea. In our quest to always make Nobles better and to think outside of the constrictions of current circumstances, when we were invited by folks in Korea to learn more, we decided we should. Nearly a year ago, Nobles was approached by the JDC to consider a proposition to open a school on Jeju Island. When asked, “Why Nobles?,” they responded that they had done their homework and were seeking partnerships among the best private schools in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Their proposal included a commitment to cover all of Nobles’ costs, including expenses for constructing an entire campus. We learned that three notable independent schools had already walked a long way down this road with the JDC, including one from London, one from Toronto, and another American school, St. Albans School, in Washington, D.C. Jeju Island struck us as a very interesting location, offering diverse ecosystems and a beautiful physical setting, within two hours by plane of a population of more than 250 million people in Korea, China and Japan.
This fell into the context of our school mission, which asserts our objective to cultivate global citizenship. As we implement our long-range plan over the next several years, a key component will be the expansion and clearer articulation of our experiential education program. Central to experiential education at Nobles is travel, including study overseas. All of these elements have driven our curiosity about the idea of a greater presence in Asia. While a second campus was certainly far more than we had previously contemplated, the notion that the financial impact might be quite minimal obligated us, we felt, to investigate more thoroughly.
Rest assured that we will only continue to pursue this if we feel we can successfully transport our school mission and essential school culture to a new location; we are not interested in simply selling our “brand.” An enterprise of this magnitude can only be undertaken if we have complete confidence that the main campus here in Dedham, and the experience of students here, will be significantly enhanced, and in no way undermined. And we have to develop effective means to assess and measure the undertaking.
So where are we now in this process? The recent “Google Alerts” were stimulated by the fact that in early April, Nobles signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” (an MoU) with the JDC. The core language of this very simple MoU asserts that the document:
“…affirms Nobles’ interest in exploring the building of a school in the Jeju Global Education City. Nobles will undertake its own initial feasibility study…with the goal of finalizing the terms of a second MoU … This MoU does not bind either The Jeju Free International City Development Center or Noble and Greenough School for any course of action other than discussing the terms of a second MoU.”
A second campus is by no means imminent. Over the next several months we intend to study this proposition and opportunity carefully, prior to signing a more direct MoU, or withdrawing from the project (having learned it is not a wise path for us). So if you happened to receive the same “Google Alert” as I did, or if you happen to regularly read the English press from Korea or Jeju, please know that this is an early courtship -- with a very uncertain outcome -- and not a marriage! While it lasts, it is our intention to learn and explore as much as possible, intending to be better prepared for challenges and possibilities in global education in the years ahead.