Ben, Duncan, Don:
A Deep Bench
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Ben Hart (center) is flanked by UP Associate Principals Kristi Granquist and Duncan FitzGerald in the UP Library.
I can now understand Ben Hart. It’s taken a few years, but I’ve come to learn the nuances of the Kiwi accent and it represents the steady, thoughtful, and empathetic leader of our Upper Primary School, often referred to as the “UP”.
Ben Hart is the UP Principal and will soon be moving into the Associate Head of School role to oversee all four school divisions supporting the Head of School. Ben spent nine years at HKIS from 2004-2013 first as an Upper Primary teacher, then a Lower Primary Associate Principal. He returned to HKIS after six years in South Africa. When he returned to HKIS in 2019 as UP Principal, he brought with him a deep passion for student learning and a commitment to supporting his faculty.
Whether it’s his genuine respect for both adults and students, his dry sense of humor, or his dedication to clear, transparent communication, Ben has created an extraordinary culture of trust and excellence at the UP. Within a few months of arriving, Ben was pulled into crisis mode because of the Hong Kong protests and Covid-19 pandemic. It was during these first few months that Ben demonstrated his leadership skills, shepherding this division through one of the most challenging times.
Whether it’s his genuine respect for both adults and students, his dry sense of humor, or his dedication to clear, transparent communication, Ben has created an extraordinary culture of trust and excellence at the UP.
Systems, Systems, Systems
When you think about how Ben works, you think about his devotion to building systems. Process, consistency, and communication are all things that lead to what has been called collective efficacy. It has been the key to creating an ecosystem that allows classroom teachers to leverage “passion spaces” like the Media Lab, Kid Kitchen, Garage (we had to practice pronouncing Garage the American way in a school video voiceover), and the new hydroponic “Farm”. When we learned of Ben’s next role, we anticipated that he would set about systemizing the whole school!
It is true that Ben is all about efficiency, but he also has a real presence among the 8-11 year olds he sees all day. One of the most memorable moments was when he was pied in the face as a challenge to students during Zoom home learning classes–no one remembers what the challenge was, just the pie in the face. The other was when he did the “Rickroll” during an assembly, and kids went wild while adults scratched their heads at how 1980s popstar Rick Astley became a pre-teen phenomenon.
Duncan FitzGerald steps into the role of Upper Primary principal next year.
Who is Duncan FitzGerald?
I haven’t seen Duncan FitzGerald “Rickroll” yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if next year’s UP Principal comes with his own ways to endear himself to the kids. Duncan who came to HKIS this past year as Associate Principal, after working in Guangzhou and most recently in Germany. He has quickly established a quiet presence with his gentle yet inquisitive approach to leading the school—from an Aussie perspective! He is well set up to take the reins together with Associate Principal Kristi Granquist and continue to lead the UP community.
The Tallest Man in the Room
And that brings us to the departure of Don Drake, which started this whole chain of administrative changes, which tapped into our deep bench of leaders. You may have seen Don at a community event or on a Parent Faculty Organization (PFO) panel over the years and recognize him as the tallest man in the room. But behind the scenes, Don has been at the center of strategic planning and faculty leadership for eight years. He first served as Director of Professional Development and then as Associate Head of School and the right hand person to Ron Roukema over the past six years. We will miss Don’s jovial personality and thought-provoking questions. We wish him and his wife Kathryn all the best as they repatriate to the United States.
Don Drake and his wife, Kathryn, celebrate the graduation of one of their children.