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Dunecrest American School, Dubailand
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Dunecrest American School, Dubailand

by Jon WestleyNovember 19, 2017
Strengths

• Founding Head
• ESOL Education
• Grade 10 opening
• IB Diploma option
• Holistic, meshed curriculum
• Caring child ethos
• Opportunity for children and families to play a leading role in the development of a new school
• Founding discounts

Weaknesses

• Lack of Advanced Placement
• Masterplan building design not as creatively impressive as some – but these are early days
• Intense competition is demanding in this sector
• Choosing a school off-plan is always a risk

Is this school on your shortlist?
Top of shortlist
46%
In my Top 5
23%
Shortlisted
15%
A possibility
15%
Pass
0%
No way
0%

SchoolsCompared.com exclusive November 2017 – first look at Dunecrest American School in Dubai

Background

“We want parents to know that with us their children will have with us their second home – at Dunecrest American School we are going to take care of them.

This includes their academics – we will help them get into the career and college of their choice, but, as importantly, we will take care of each and every child as a person.

We will of course teach them Mathematics and Science, English and Social Studies, the broadest spectrum of subjects …

But education is, must be, so much more than this.

Are our children going to grow up honest? Kind? Will they empathise? Will they make a difference in the world? Will they fulfil their dreams?

Learning what it means to be a good human being – this is the stuff that is much more complicated but so important to me and will be the foundation of what we do for all our children in my school.

This is what we will deliver for our children – the truly important, much more difficult education of children beyond just the academics that of course come as a given in a top-flight school.

And we will take care of each child because we understand that they are only children.

Too many schools forget this.

We just want to do well and do the very, very best things we can for our children.

We will help our children reach their dreams.

That’s my bottom line.

Bill Delbrugge. Founding Head. Dunecrest American School Dubai.

 

Set to open in September 2018, ESOL Education has announced the launch of its 200 million AED flagship Dunecrest American School. Dunecrest American School, which is being built on the Mohammed Bin Zayed Road in Dubailand near the Al Barari and Legends communities.

A map showing the location of Dunecrest American School in Dubai

Positioned on the 311 places Dunecrest American School within relatively easy reach of catchments from Mirdif through to the Academic City and Silicon Oasis communities north of Dunecrest through to Ranches, Motor and Sports Cities and Jumeirah Village Triangle to the South. On its doorstep, the Al Barari and Legends communities are growing and will provide a natural catchment over time.

This is a part of Dubai that showcases some of Dubai’s most outstanding schools and Dunecrest American School faces extremely stiff competition for parents open to exploring schools from the full range of curricular. The bar is set high. For parents, however, set on a US curriculum school it’s a very different story and Dubai is limited in its choice of outstanding US curriculum schools. Dunecrest American School is aiming head on to be a go-to choice for the very best American curriculum school in Dubai.

“Parents have been crying out for a truly outstanding, genuine US curriculum school in Dubai for a long time now – and one in particularly that serves this geographical and demographic area of the emirate. Dunecrest American has been designed ground-up to be that school.”

Peter Daly. Chief Education Consultant. ESOL Education

Dunecrest American School will offer its 1500 students a US curriculum with an option to graduate with the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma in Grades 11 and 12. ESOL Education promises parents a “state-of-the-art facility, providing an advanced learning environment with a focus on connectivity, open spaces, digital resources and healthy living.”

Admission are now open for children to attend the school on its opening in September 2018 for grades Pre-KG through Grade 10 with phased opening of Grades 11 and 12 in 2019-20.

 

Stand-out Leadership

“People in the Middle East are a very loving and kind people. Unfortunately, I think we have hurt ourselves [in the US] as far as knowing what the people of the Middle East are because we see some of the craziness on TV – and that’s not what this place is here at all.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful group of people here.

I guess one of the things I really hope to accomplish is share with the world that this is a good place.

Some people in America forget who we are. We are the most diverse country on planet Earth. Many US schools overseas forget this diversity. This is wrong. We have to embrace this – it is one of the most special parts of being an American.

At Dunecrest American School it is important to me that we encourage people’s Mother’s tongue whatever it may be – and will ensure that ECAs and clubs allow children to continue with their own language and heritage. Language and heritage is important. All people need to know where they come from.

We should proud of being part of the UAE and what its people stand for. The 2020 goals, the mission to Mars, every aspect of UAE culture and ambition will build into who we are and what we seek to achieve at Dunecrest.

The ambitions of the Dubai people are extraordinary.

Part of our beliefs is that we will study and explore Dubai – as a school we want to use everything in Dubai to expand our learning opportunities. For example, the work in biology and genetics that takes place on a daily basis at the Dubai Aquarium.

Our school will not be isolated.

Our children will find Dubai and the UAE integrated inspirationally into the curriculum.”

Bill Delbrugge. Founding Head. Dunecrest American School Dubai.

 

Of all the elements that influence the likely performance of a school for children, and, arguably, significantly more important than buildings, facilities and bells and whistles, is school leadership.

SchoolsCompared.com met with Bill Delbrugge for the first time in November 2017 following confirmation that he would be taking on the position of Founding Head for Dunecrst American School.

He is clearly passionate about the welfare and academic performance of children – and versed in the academic and leadership theory and practice integral to ensuring outstanding schooling. He also has conviction, determination, knowledge and a strategy already in place for Dunecrest American.

A music graduate from the University of Tennessee, Mr Delbrugge secured his Masters in Educational Leadership from Trevecca University. He brings with him a reputation garnered in the Middle East and US. He transfers from his current headship of ESOL’s flagship American International School in Egypt (AISE), a position he has held for some 7 years since 2010.

Like Dunecrest American School, AISE is an American school offering the option of IB Diploma study in K12 so the fit is a good one. Mr Delbrugge saw AISE more than double in size to educate some 3,100 students across two campuses.

Prior to this Mr. Delbrugge served as a Superintendent of Schools in Florida, between 2005 and 2010, heading a team responsible for the education of 26,000 students in schools spanning PreK-12, colleges and broader community education. He was widely known as the “Magic Man” for, often against steep odds, turning around schools that many others had given up as lost. His leaving the US was greeted with genuine consternation by many US families.

This role followed his previous appointment as Director of Research and Reporting for the Georgia Department of Education with responsibility for some 1.5 million students.

At Dunecrest American School Mr Delbrugge is intent on delivering as a “core value …the way we add value to children.”

 

Cross Curricular, meshed learning

“The skills our children will need in their lives to come will require us to “mesh” English, Science, Social Studies together – and embed within the whole subject spectrum skills in ingenuity, creativity … Across the whole subject spectrum, questioning and invention skills must be pulled together.

Our children will need to learn how to solve the big issues that impact on all our lives….

This is what Dunecrest American School, under my leadership, will be about.”

Bill Delbrugge. Founding Head. Dunecrest American School Dubai.

 

For us, the stand-out feature of Dubecrest American comes with the commitment of the school to build on the natural strengths of the International Baccalaureate style of learning.

The International Baccalaureate, at its best, and taught effectively encourages children to explore and solve problems, pulling in knowledge from across disciplines.

The underlying philosophy of the IB encourages children to question everything, rather than simply absorb facts.

In the best International Baccalaureate schools, children, even from younger ages, are always encouraged to explore knowledge through the very personal lens of what inspires and provokes their own love of learning and natural inquisitiveness.

Mr Delbrugge recognises this and wants to bring the expertise he has developed in combining US and IB approaches to Dubai. We have quoted Mr Delbrugge at some length to bring this to life for parents below.

“An example of the type of enquiry-based lesson we will develop in our Elementary School is this. We will ask our Mathematics, Science, Social Science and English teachers to come together for children so that each child can explore cross curricular ways to solve a genuinely meaningful problem.

We want children, even at a young age, to look at a problem like poverty and the problems the world faces in feeding people – and apply themselves to solving it practically.

To do this they will explore genetics and the basics of farming to see how they can make, for example, more tomatoes grow from seeds than is possible than simply watering them. The bigger picture here surrounding them is the global problem of how do we feed the growing populations of the world – how do we look after the people of the world beyond themselves.

At the elementary level we give them the problem with the basics of a solution.”

Bill Delbrugge. Founding Head. Dunecrest American School Dubai.

 

Mr Delbrugge describes how this approach adapts as children grow older:

“At the High School level we will give our students a real budget and inspire them to run with their ideas and solutions.

They will use their budget to explore their own solutions to, for example, solve that same issue of world poverty.

They may buy water pumps, or seeds, or fish – whatever they buy is up to them. The self-sustaining machines and systems they produce will then be given to parts of the community in which it can be of most help and make a difference.”

Bill Delbrugge. Founding Head. Dunecrest American School Dubai.

 

Summarising what he is trying to achieve Mr Delbrugge continued:

“We teach our children how to THINK not only how to do well in tests. You do have to have both – universities will look at SAT scores – there is no avoiding that – but enquiry based learning offers so much more.

We are an academically and SEND inclusive school and we welcome all children. We aim for a 100% pass rate for all children who sit the IB Diploma. We focus on developing an environment in which it is cool to be smart. It is an expectation in our school that all children will sit at least one IB course, and no child will leave our schools with less than a Grade 4 on any course they study.

By the time second language learners reach the seventh grade with us they will always be above US and world averages. That is my experience. That is what my schools achieve.

While not all children will be ready, or should be, to sit a College level programme like the full IB, our children will all write business plans, white papers, make presentations – all things beyond basic testing which will be valuable in the world facing them beyond school.

The results of tests will always be secondary for us to ensuring we help every child develop as a whole human being – and with the broader skills they will need when they leave us.”

Bill Delbrugge. Founding Head. Dunecrest American School Dubai.

 

Design

Architectural render for the planned ESOL "flagship" Dunecrest American School in Dubai

Whilst final renders of the new school’s design have yet to be released, the following key points may be taken from the design brief:

  • Parking looks to have been well-planned with spaces available near the main entrance. A significant frustration of parents in the UAE is the lack of planning invested in parking and access at design stage for many schools, resulting in some cases to hours being added to journeys to and from school and children having to travel large distances in the heat. A recognition of this issue seems to have been integrated into the planning for the building and parents may note the external shade sails which should help with any queueing necessary.
  • Significant investment in windows and glass should ensure well-lit corridors and classrooms
  • A significant percentage of the sites acreage has been set aside for external playing fields, a key demand of US parents
  • The Internal swimming pool within the school’s athletics complex will allow comfortable all-year round swimming
  • The limited 1500 school capacity, at under half the size of Dubai’s largest schools, should provide for a degree of intimacy that will appeal to many parents whose children will simply not find a home in the very different dynamics of larger 2000 – 3000 capacity schools.

Our only critique, at this stage, is that the school design itself seems functional and block-driven with none of the obvious flair and rounded design increasingly showcased by Tier 1 schools in this premium end of the school market.

We are strong believers that inspirational school design adds significantly to the experience and learning of students and this could be a missed opportunity for ESOL.

This is less about cosmetic “bells and whistles” and much more about leveraging good design to create a sense of school uniqueness and the pride that comes from this for families and children.

Historically in the UAE schools have been built to a box style and budget and, as a result, visually at least seemed all much of a muchness and difficult to distinguish. This said, these are early days for Dunecrest American School, the renders are incomplete and subject to review. Functionally, as above, ESOL does look to be responding rarely to the real parking and access worries that for many parents will be a major draw.

In terms of investment in sustainable technology too, it would appear that Dunecrest American School will lag some way behind ESOL’s sustainability focused new Fairgreen International School, reviewed here.

The test, of course, for parents and children will be in the completed school and ESOL Education has the time to get this right. Dunecrest American School will have none of the drama and location impact of its opening IB sister, Fairgreen International School, also opening in September 2018 – so it arguably needs to do much more here architecturally to bring the school to life for its children and inspire them.

 

Curriculum

Dunecrest American School follows what is in Dubai the traditional 3 different options for graduation: full IB, certification IB or the High School Diploma. The High School Diploma is the fall-back qualification for children who are not academically able to access the hugely demanding full International Baccalaureate Diploma.

This may be standard, but as we have consistently argued, it is not sufficient.

Our view is that schools should not be offering the High School Diploma without Advanced Placement. For students set on studying for a graduate degree in the UK some universities will accept the High School Diploma, but not the most prestigious –  and those that do insist that school leavers follow an extra conversion year.

This said, Dunecrest does at least offer a choice between the International Baccalaureate Diploma, individual IB courses and the High School Diploma – many do not and offer only the High School Diploma.

For academic students, likely to be able to access the International Baccalaureate Diploma – and as importantly, score highly across individual courses, Dunecrest American School is likely to an offer an outstanding Tier 1 education.

For non-academic students aiming to travel to the Indian sub-continent for further study, or in some cases those seeking local university places, the High School Diploma will be sufficient and open the doors they require of a high achieving premium school.

But for non-academic students set on obtaining a passport to top tier universities globally Dunecrest, currently, in our view, falls short of being an optimal choice because it does not offer Advanced Placement. Adding individual IB courses to the High School Diploma does not have sufficient global currency for tier 1 universities. As we have written in our curriculum guide, here, the High School Diploma is broadly comparable in the British system to an IGCSE level educational qualification.

Whilst ESOL Education are at pains to emphasise that they expect at least 70% of students attending Dunecrest to be Diploma students, the issue for us is , firstly, those students in the remaining 30% seeking direct Tier 1 university placements and, secondly, the grades lower performing IB students will achieve within the main body of students. Top universities do not require simply passing the International Baccalaureate – but high scoring within it. This is the argument for providing technical stream or AP alternatives to the extreme academic and language demands of the IB Diploma.

Providing even a limited number of Advanced Placement options (or better, providing children access to the International Career-related Programme) would resolve this. ESOL is aware that we hope, over time, like a number of other top-flight US schools in the region, ESOL will reconsider AP provision.

To be balanced, ESOL Education agues that no school will do more for their children in ensuring each child meets his or her potential.

Equally, we do recognise that ESOL is academically (and otherwise fully) inclusive – it would have been easy for them to model Dunecrest as an academically selective school and simply lose the problem – and a significant number of children who will clearly benefit from the high-quality education that will be on offer in doing so. For this ESOL Education deserves credit.

 

Facilities

The campus will include elements expected by parents at this fee level.

  • Technology-enabled classrooms
  • STEAM Labs
  • Maker spaces
  • Library and Learning Hub
  • An athletics complex with
    • 25M swimming pool;
    • large multi-purpose indoor gymnasium and auditorium;
    • basketball courts;
    • regulation-sized soccer field; and,
    • 400-meter athletics track.

The importance of Sport to many US parents requires American schools to go beyond the facilities of other curricular and expectation will be high. Until the school reaches a level of build in which these become transparent beyond the master-planning we are not able to judge how effectively these have been met. ESOL Education, however, will be aware of these expectations and we have no reason to believe at this stage and the reputation of ESOL in delivering high calibre US schooling is proven elsewhere in schools across the group:

“The investment in sports facilities is crucial in a US school. American parents rightly expect facilities will be of the very highest quality.

The facilities at Dunecrest American School will be exceptional and amongst the very best available of any US Dubai school.

As importantly, we have invested in absolutely top class sports coaches to support the sporting aspirations and ambitions of all Dunecreest American children.”

Peter Daly. Chief Education Consultant. ESOL Education

Equally, as with any new school in planning phase, understanding that there will be provision for labs across disciplines tells us little about the quality and content of those labs. We need considerably more detail on infrastructure, for example Robotics provision and broader IT provision, to make secure judgments for parents.

We expect to be able to visit the school on the ground in the later stage of its build in July 2018 to be able to provide parents with a considered view.

 

Fees

The fee structure for Dunecrest American School, like its ESOL Education sibling Fairgreen International School, surprisingly bucks the trend for new ultra-premium schools pitching fees beyond 100,000 DHS.

It is worth noting too that the 3-year Founders discount packages on offer for boys and girls joining Dunecrest American School at the time of its opening in September 2018 are generous, and particularly so for those joining at Pre-KG to Year 1 phases. We are pleased to see that the discounts have not been restricted for Pre-KG. A number of schools reduce the discounts for this phase, presumably because it is the year most launching schools faced the highest demand.

A full breakdown of the founding fee structure over the first three years can be found below.

 

Founding fee discounts at ESOL Education's new Dunecrest American School opening in Dubai in September 2018

Bottom line?

In all areas, accepting the curriculum for some children, Dunecrest American School promises to offer an outstanding education – if it meets its ambitions and those of its founding Head.

The promise of the school leadership is stand-out and we think many parents meeting with Mr Delbrugge will find in his rare integrity and evangelical ambition for children the confidence to choose the school for the education of their children.

ESOL Education too have, particularly in recent history, forged an outstanding, and in our view well deserved reputation for the quality of their schools.

The promise of a meshed curriculum is one that lives up to the explicit aims of the International Baccalaureate at its best – and it is impressive that Dunecrest American School will weave this into the American curriculum to build on its own natural strengths in the holistic development of children.

Finally, the master-planning promises to deliver all the basics required at this level of fee provision. We think, as above, it should do more – but we will only know the degree to which it achieves beyond this when the school takes shape next year.

It is only in the lack of Advanced Placement provision ultimately that we have concerns. Over time, as the school builds we hope that these concerns will be addressed so that every child will at least leave an otherwise potentially outstanding school with the tools needed to access the broadest range of opportunities.

Dunecrest American School, not least in the impressiveness of its outstanding Founding Head, is a school parents looking for a US-IB education for their children should consider shortlisting. A review can never take the place of meeting with a school, its faculty and leadership. By July next year parents should have a school they can visit – and then the picture will be infinitely clearer.

Are you looking for a place for your child, and want help from our school consultants? If so, click on the link below, and we will forward your request for information to the school or schools of the same type that we are confident have availability. This is a free service for our readers from our sister site WhichSchoolAdvisor.

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Details to consider
Type of school

Private, for-profit

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

Pre-KG: 46,000
KG1: 54,000
KG2: 62,000
YEAR 1: 77,000
YEAR 2: 77,000
YEAR 3: 77,000
YEAR 4: 77,000
YEAR 5: 83,000
YEAR 6: 83,000
YEAR 7: 83,000
YEAR 8: 83,000
YEAR 9: 89,000
YEAR 10: 89,000
YEAR 11: 89,000
YEAR 12: 89,000

Curriculum

American - International Baccalaureate

External Exam Boards

International Baccalaureate

Selective

Inclusive

Value Added

Not published

Number of Students

Capacity: 1500

Largest nationality teachers

American

Teacher turnover

New school in planning

Year opened

September 2018

Location

Dubailand, Dubai

Gender

Mixed, co-educational

School canteen

Yes

Owner

ESOL Education

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0)4 333 6996

Web Address
About The Author
Jon Westley

Jon Westley is the Editor of SchoolsCompared.com and WhichSchoolAdvisor.com UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at] schoolscompared.com

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