Al-Mizhar American Academy, Al-Mizhar 1, Mirdif
• Common Core/ Next Gen standards
• AP provision
• Single-sex, all girl schooling from Grade 1
• Strong focus on engineering and science
• Taaleem backing
• Outstanding new leadership midway through pioneering transformation/whole school improvement
• High levels of Emirati attendance in a broadly international role
• School wide improvements across the spectrum of provision
• Very good levels of school transparency
• Lack of advertised bursary or sponsorship provision
• This school deserves significant capital investment
Updated March 2017
Al-Mizhar American Academy (AAM), previously Al-Mizhar American Academy Private School for Girls, is best understood as a single-sex all-girl through school offering an FS to Grade 12 education based on the US, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, curriculum to children between the ages of 3 years and 18 years. AAM is a co-educational school for Pre-KG to KG 2, this provided very much following the request of, and as a service to parents. The school is owned and managed by the highly respected Taaleem. If this is the somewhat dry and descriptive background to Al Mizhar, the reality on the ground is of an absolutely wonderful school that after our most recent visit (March 2017) really left an impression on us of a very high achieving, happy and genuinely inspirational school that, we think, deserves much wider recognition. As our Inspector in her notes reported: “I left feeling very excited, and actually quite moved, by the opportunities which are being given to the young women at this remarkable school.”
Stand-out features for prospective parents are:
- An all-girls school from Grade 1, rare in meeting a defined requirement for single-sex education by many parents in the Emirates
- Common Core and Next Generation standards based curriculum
- Provision for Advanced Placement (AP) – very important in US curricular schools
- Taaleem backing
- Small school intimacy with the Tier 1 facilities that generally come only with much larger schools
- Fully accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and Council of International Schools (CIS)
- Al -Mizhar is rated a “Good School” by the KHDA, a rating it has held for eight years. The rating is the minimum rating awarded by the KHDA for a school that it considers effective on its new six-point scale rating schools from Very Weak, Weak, Acceptable, Good, Very Good and Outstanding.
In the following review, and following our visit to the school in March 2017, we want to tackle head-on two areas:
- The school is mid-way working through very significant transitional changes across staff and whole school delivery. In 2015-16 staff turnover was running to 40%.
- The school has historically been rated a Good School with Outstanding features. At the time of the last inspection some of the school’s outstanding features were downgraded.
The school’s current overall rating compares poorly with the Inspectorate’s individual awarding of “Outstanding” to the school’s strengths in developing the personal responsibility of its students, their community sense of community and environmental responsibility and broader appreciation of the Emirati, Islamic and global context across all phases in 2013-14.
The school at this time was also praised for its outstanding partnership with parents and exceptional support for its children. In all these areas the school’s performance, as measured by the KHDA, had dropped, in many cases by two grades, notwithstanding the new measurement in its last Inspection.
Following our visit, and in practice, we note a school today significantly improved under its new Principal, Ms Bridget Justen, from the benchmark scoring she inherited in 2014-15. We think, on the basis of our visit, independent feedback to our sister site, whichschooladvisor, and our latest visit to the school (March 2017) that securing a high KHDA rating is now just a matter of time and prospective parents should review the last Inspectorate grading in the context of recent changes which present a very different school.
The school in 2017
Facilities are premium, but without the bells and whistles of the new ultra Tier 1s. Al Mizhar very much follows the Taaleem model elsewhere with modern, functional building design focused on high quality facility provision and airy and bright internal spaces.
Facilities include a fully digital campus; three ICT suites; mini auditorium; four science laboratories by specialism; (outstanding) music rooms; art studios; pottery studio and kiln; main school library; cafeteria/dining hall; prayer rooms; shaded free-flow play areas; KG play centres and an outdoor playground. Sporting facilities include a (shaded) outdoor swimming pool; multi-purpose sports hall; gym and multi-purpose outside sports field.
The curriculum has undergone a number of state changes since the school was launched. Currently the school works to the Kansas state curriculum. Critically, the school follows the United States Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics and the Next Generation Science Standards. We have argued that these are important curriculum foundations for all parents seeking a US education for their children – not all US schools provide these. Please see our Guide to the US High School Diploma.
Al Mizhar also follows the C3 (College, Career and Civic Life) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, and the National Core Arts Standards. These are rare in the Emirates and again demonstrate the importance the school places in delivering a meaningful accountable US education able to provide students with the broadest range of options on leaving the school.
Finally, and most impressive, and, we believe critical for prospective parents, the school provides a range of Advanced Placement (AP) options for its students. AP scoring is increasingly a requirement for further study in Tier 1 Universities where a standard US High School Diploma, in isolation, simply does not provide the required standards for admission, whatever the individual paper scoring achieved by students.
The school curriculum is broken down into Elementary (Grades 1 – 5); Secondary Middle Grades 6 – 8); and Secondary High (Grades 9 – 12).
Elementary subject provision develops core foundations in reading, writing, spelling, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. The broader curriculum includes Arabic (or Arabic as a Foreign Language (AFL)), Arabic Culture, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Art, Music and Physical Education (PE).
Secondary Middle schooling extends study in the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science. The broader curriculum includes Arabic (or Arabic as a Foreign Language (AFL)); French, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Art, Music, Physical Education (PE) and Islamic Studies.
Secondary High sets up graduation for the AAM High School Diploma. Core study is in English, Social Studies, Mathematics and Science with extended options and electives including Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Physical Education (PE), French, Arabic and Fine Arts.
At this stage the school offers a range of Advanced Placement programme courses, although it advises that this is offered to only a “limited number of carefully screened students.” We would like to see the school raising the standard to ensure that the majority of students can access AP courses, and expect to succeed, this in the context of the increasingly weak value of a basic US High School diploma as a means to meet the standards required by top tier university admissions, particularly outside the US.
This is not the right vehicle to discuss or weight the merits of a single-sex education. What is clear is that the number of schools providing an all-girls education across the UAE is limited, and declining as a percentage of total schools. For some parents, this requirement comes above any other.
Whilst there is evidence on both sides of the single-sex, co-educational argument, what is certain is that some children thrive in an environment without the distractions of the other sex, and, for girls in particular, there is some strength in the argument that all-girls schooling empowers women in meeting and developing their skills in leadership and reduces the gender stereotyping that in many cases see young women avoiding science and engineering based study because of their archaic association with being “naturally” male subject areas of study. Bottom line though is that AAM is meeting a very important need of many parents.
ECAs are broad in scope and ambition including roles within the Student Council/Student Leadership; a Model United Nations (MUN) programme; Book Club; Rugby; Film Studies; Band / music; LEGO Robotics; Painting; a Writer’s Workshop; Aqua Club; Public Speaking; Drama Club; Gymnastics; Scrapbooking; a Spanish Club; Qur’an Club; Cooking and an Arabic Club. The school runs a plethora of trips including latterly to Singapore for a four-day Space Academy Programme, promoting science and engineering.
There is no doubt that the school’s new Head, Bridget Justen, is making progress in significantly moving the school forward in meeting KHDA requirements for “Very Good” school status. She has a real strength in being promoted from within Taaleem, having been latterly the Head of Primary at Greenfield Community School, a post she held for three years.
However, there is also no doubt that the school had been in a process of transition at the time of the last inspection, and that the core areas that the KHDA has downgraded the school’s performance in its last two inspections, evidenced that the impact of the transition on children in the whole child developmental areas had been significant.
One obvious area of fallout has been in teacher turnover; this ran to some 40% in 2015-16. But the numbers don’t tell the story, as is so often the case.
The reason for the turnover has been the ground-up re-engineering of the school by Ms Justen whose conviction in the potential of the school, and her commitment to its children and faculty are powerfully expressed and genuine. Effectively the entire Senior Leadership team has been appointed to deliver Ms Justen’s vision for the school resulting in the appointment of around 30 new faculty members last year. All of the appointments have been designed to deliver excellence and specialism in the IB curriculum – something imperative given its demands. Teachers are predominantly American, but Ms Justen’s ambition is to have a far more international base to the teaching staff as she develops the school and is an outspoken proponent of diversity.In future years we can imagine the currently largely “home grown” cohort of students become much more international, particularly as the school beds in its reputation which is already a good one by word of mouth. Certainly independent feedback from faculty, parents and students to our, and our sister site, whichschooladvisor, has, as above, been unambiguously positive.
Already, previously noted weaknesses in the school’s transparency at the time of our last review have now been comprehensively addressed.
In all the substantive areas of accreditation, standards and curriculum, Al Mizhar is, in fact, performing in-line with the very best of Emirates schools. There are many features of the school that stand out and we single out some examples below:
- New commitment to languages has seen more than 80% of students now electing to study French at Grade 9 – a critical foundation for the IB Diploma
- Taleem have invested resources to the tune of approx AED 300,000 so that the facilities at the school can be maintained and upgraded. The building is one of the oldest in the group.
- There is a strong push on raising Academic standards throughout the school – but with engagement on a social and emotional level too. There is a sophisticated approach at play here that recognises that success in the IB depends on developing the whole child.
- New average class sizes of 17 are good for the sector and have been aligned to increase the opportunity for students to sit for Advanced Placements. This is, we believe, a critical element of American school provision, with or without the IB – and too few schools deliver. AP investment is a highlight of the school. AP options are being increased to include Statistics and Western History, which will be followed by Human Geography and French a year later.
- There is a new emphasis on Leadership skills and encouraging ambitious aspirations. There is a distinct “can do” mentality throughout the school and the teachers we spoke with on our visit independently were all inspirational, and unequivocally open, enthusiastic and dedicated. This is not always the case on our visits to schools – and it is rare to find faculty with such clear and vocationally driven commitment to the school and its children
- University applications are rising: the 1st application for a student has just been submitted to Yale (March 2017). To support this internships have been sought and 11 of the 15 students on the current programme at the time of our visit now have positions in the local community to complete relevant and serious internship and work placements.
Facilities, given the age and first impressions of the school, are good. There are 2 Libraries, one for KG, one for the main school. The latter is at the rear of the lobby and has a study area in addition to expansive book selection. The school’s Gymnasium is a large and adequate space which can be divided – some changing rooms were inside, some oddly were outside in a bank of individual cubicles – this is a good example of where the school has the facilities, but needs investment. The 25M school swimming pool has 6-lanes and is well shaded. There is an outdoor pitch area ( astroturf ) which is fenced and squeezed in behind the campus of the adjacent school. The canteen is serviceable and allows for inside or outside eating on benches. On our visit it was doubling as a rehearsal area for an assembly – long term the school needs a dedicated auditorium. There are three well stocked, though arguably small, Science Labs – one for each discipline, and two ICT suites with banks of monitors and PC’s. There are two Music rooms, one for younger children and one for the older girls. On our visit the Art Facility was choc-a-bloc with displays and the Art teacher was very engaging about the art work and the artists being studied. It is a long time since we have met a teacher so clearly and evidently passionate about their subject. There is a Piano in the lobby and students and teachers regularly play. The bottom line, however, is that we feel that the school would benefit from capital investment – the ambition and talent is very clearly here, with that investment in place, for the school to outwardly reflect the quality of provision and extend the opportunities for its role.
We believe that prospective parents set on a single-sex, all-girl education for their child(ren) will find much to recommend this school – stand-out for us is is the substantive AP curriculum offer, the impacts of recent changes in leadership, clear school ambition and the warmth of the school.
Bottom line is that there is much to recommend Al Mizhar for parents shortlisting the school for the education of their child(ren). There is a courageous, pioneering spirit at play here – and the conviction-led teaching and leadership of the school is something, on a visit, that is to behold. Al Mizhar is an interesting, special and potentially exceptional school in the making. With investment in place, and the time needed to bed-in change, there is everything to play for – and there will be, we are convinced, every chance of the school setting a benchmark for outstanding all-girl US schooling in the years to come. Watch this space.Go to the FULL REVIEW on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Go to ROS MARSHALL on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com
FS1: 39,886 (US Pre-primary)
FS2: 39,886 (US KG1)
YEAR 1: 39,886 (US KG2)
YEAR 2: 46,926 (US Grade 1)
YEAR 3: 46,926 (US Grade 2)
YEAR 4: 46,926 (US Grade 3)
YEAR 5: 46,926 (US Grade 4)
YEAR 6: 55,137 (US Grade 5)
YEAR 7: 55,137 (US Grade 6)
YEAR 8: 55,137 (US Grade 7)
YEAR 9: 55,137 (US Grade 8)
YEAR 10: 62,176 (US Grade 9)
YEAR 11: 62,176 (US Grade 10)
YEAR 12: 62,176 (US Grade 11)
YEAR 13: 62,176 (US Grade 12)
American / US (Kansas):
(1) Common Core State Standards
(2) Advanced Placement (AP)
New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
Council of International Schools (CIS)
(1) entry is subject to a placement assessment in English and Mathematics from Grade 1.
(2) Pre-KG and KG students are observed taking part in activities and interacting with other children.
Approximate role: 600 (March 2017)
US / American
Al-Mizhar 1, Mirdif, Dubai
Emirati (largest nationality): 396
Special Educational Needs: 35
Pre-KG - KG2: Mixed, co-educational
Grade 1 - Grade 12: Single sex, girls-only
+971 (0) 4 288 7250 ext. 227