Kevin Glass didn’t learn the riches of cultural diversity in his childhood schools.
In his neighborhood in the northeastern English city of Newcastle, most folks shared the same race, beliefs and social standing.
“At my high school, there were no ethnic minorities. There were no different colors, races or even religions there at all,” said Mr. Glass.
But the cultural competence he lacked as a high schooler gradually came to define his career and identity. Mr. Glass succeeded Robert Brindley as headmaster at the Atlanta International School in July, continuing an adventurous 17-year educational career that has led him across a variety of continents and cultures.
“International education is who I am, it’s what I do, it’s my life, it’s my vocation,” said Mr. Glass, who comes to Atlanta from a five-year stint as headmaster at the Tashkent International School in the Uzbekistan capital.
Mr. Glass’ international odyssey began at university in Manchester, England, a city with large populations of south and east Asians and Afro-Caribbeans, who opened his eyes to the world beyond England’s borders.
He ran his own theater company while completing his post-graduate studies at Cambridge University but eventually gave up his passion for the stage to pursue a new platform: teaching.
“I came to a pretty fundamental realization … that theater is not real, and education was the most real thing that I could do with my life. When a job opportunity came up in South Africa, I seized that in 1992. I leapt at it, and I haven’t looked back ever since,” Mr. Glass told GlobalAtlanta in a wide-ranging interview at the Atlanta International School, a private K-12 institution in Buckhead.
In postings in places like apartheid-era South Africa, the West African nation of Togo (where he met and married his German diplomat wife, Stefani), Costa Rica, Uzbekistan and now Atlanta, Mr. Glass has seen the need not only to teach children, but to cultivate an educational experience rooted in the knowledge that an interconnected world now awaits students outside the classroom doors.
To that end, he is a big proponent of the International Baccalaureate, a Swiss educational curriculum that started as a high school diploma program for students moving among countries. It has become a trusted brand in internationally focused educational curriculum and is now available in schools at all levels from kindergarten through high school. Georgia has about 50 IB schools. The Atlanta International School is the only one in Georgia and one of just 10 schools in the country that offers the the full gamut of IB programs from grades K-12.
Using the IB to prepare students for a “globally connected, multipolar, interdependent world” is more important now than ever, as global companies expand their reach and technology renders vocation less dependent on location, Mr. Glass said.
“We’re seeing families, nuclear families, moving city, moving job, moving career, moving country with absolutely increasing regularity,” Mr. Glass said. “So the skill set that we try and inculcate, the perspectives we try and give to our students and to our families, are basically to allow them to be successful wherever they find themselves in our world, whatever they choose to do with their life.”
Building that awareness will be a bit easier in Atlanta, home to the fourth-largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S., than it was in his last post.
When he took the job in Tashkent, the school was housed in a dingy converted Soviet office building. It had five acres of land and just over 100 students.
When he left five years later, the school had a shiny new campus on 15 acres, International Baccalaureate programs in all grade levels and about 400 students.
The Tashkent school’s growth both encouraged and reflected the city’s economic advancement, much like the Atlanta International School has done for the Georgia capital since its founding 25 years ago, Mr. Glass said.
“I think if you look at the history and growth and evolution of this school, the Atlanta International School, and Atlanta as a center for global business and global finance, the two go hand in glove. They sort of parallel each other,” Mr. Glass said.
The logic flows that employees of international companies want to enjoy life where they’re stationed. Having good schools for their children and a system like the IB where the educational experience is transferable helps drive a company relocation decisions, Mr. Glass said.
While he was in Uzbekistan, General Motors Corp. decided to put expand a joint-venture auto plant there, and branches of Korean conglomerates put logistics and manufacturing facilities there, partly because of the international school, he added.
Similarly, the Atlanta International School is an economic development tool, Mr. Glass said.
While half the school’s nearly 1,000 students are Americans, 70 percent of them come from families classified by the school as “global” because they are from overseas or work for companies like United Parcel Service Inc. or Coca-Cola Co. Students and their families now represent more than 90 countries and speak more than 50 languages.
“I think that global corporations, global families and corporate executives would think twice about basing themselves here in Atlanta if there wasn’t such an internationally renowned, famous international school such as this one,” Mr. Glass said.
But while companies and economic developers understand the school’s importance, Mr. Glass said a goal and his “biggest challenge” is making long-term Atlanta residents aware of what the school can provide them in the way of a global perspective.
“Waving that flag and shouting that from the rooftops is something we have to do,” he said.
On Sunday, Oct. 25, the school is hosting Worldfest, a free event introducing the Atlanta community to the culture and food of more than 25 countries.