Student turnover rate increases

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By nature, an international school is transient. While this is true at ASL, the amount of students who stay one year to the next increased by six percent over the past decade.

In the aftermath of the 2008 recession, Dean of Admissions Jodi Warren found the jump from 79 to 81 percent for student re-enrollment between 2009 and 2010 most fascinating. Reasoning that the volatile economy encouraged families to refrain from adventurous moves, Warren expected change with a seemingly more stable economy, but that did not occur. “To be honest, I’m a bit surprised it stayed that high because it can dip a bit in cycles, but it’s pretty unpredictable,” Warren said.

Last year, the re-enrollment rate reached a summit of 88 percent. Warren attributes the peak to London being a hub for global business. “We have more families who are in London longer-term. So, we did start to see a situation where families who came on an ex-pat assignment, when that assignment was over they didn’t leave,” Warren said. “London’s increasingly a center for lots of international companies.”

For Principal Jack Phillips, a primary advantage of less turnover lies in students’ ability to experience one school’s curriculum, rather than engaging in multiple curricula. “In general, school transition is not great for academics,” Phillips said.

Aside from academic continuity, Rebecka Henrikson (’17), who has spent the last 11 years at ASL, values the social aspect of greater re-enrollment. “Having a base of people, faculty-wise and student-wise does create a sense of belonging. Familiar faces are always really nice and comforting,” Henrikson said.

Though Henrikson appreciates stability among peers and teachers, she equally sees the value in communal diversity. “There’s the risk where if everyone here has been here all the time you are being exposed to the same conversations, same problems, same relationships between people. It’s nice to freshen things up,” she said.

Phillips welcomes new students for the “vitality and fresh perspectives” they bring, though he finds having a considerable core of students advantageous. “Building a community is a multi-year process and any time you get someone new, it’s like we have to start over again,” Phillips said.

Having been at ASL since K1, Rohan Prasad (’18) believes re-enrollment among students is only necessary for so long. “I’ve seen some friend groups utterly destroyed when friends leave and that seems bad, but on the whole it’s good for people to try and branch out,” he said.

In addition to the advantages of greater turnover, Prasad identifies a distinct ramification of decreased attrition. “When kids stay for a really long time, the grade can get cliquey and it kind of divides you more,” Prasad said.

Isolated friend groups and grades constitute Warren’s greatest concern with the re-enrollment rates, as she believes with new students, “we have to be more mindful of how we help them integrate.”

Arriving at ASL from the American School in Israel, Adam Hamama (’17) noticed the dynamic of the grade he just entered was starkly different from the intimate, 75-person grade at his previous school. “I felt like the grade was less connected with each other because people just stuck to their groups,” Hamama said.

Hamama already knew one of his peers upon entering ASL and realized the transition proved more difficult for new students who didn’t have connections to the school before arriving. “It was quite easy for me because I became friends with his friends. It seemed like for other new people it took more time for them to find a group,” Hamama said.

Not only among students, but for faculty as well, the turnover rate decreased. Two teachers left last year and six will depart this summer. “In all organizations you want a little bit of turnover, it’s good, you bring in new ideas. What you don’t want is too much turnover where you lose institutional knowledge,” Phillips said. “ASL is a busy place, there’s a lot going on and we have a very coordinated curriculum, so there is an amount of time that it takes for a teacher to get up to speed.”

Prasad believes he benefits academically when he spends consecutive years with a teacher. “You’re more comfortable because you are familiar with the teacher… you have the connection and can embrace the subject matter even better because you are not also getting used to a new teacher,” Prasad said.

Beyond the classroom, Henrikson enjoys continuity with teachers. “It’s nice to see teachers in the hallway that you had and say ‘hi’ to them and they ask how you are. It shows that people care about you and your learning experience,” Henrikson said.

For the 2016-2017 school year, the Admissions Department projects the re-enrollment rate will again hover around 88 percent. With departures over the summer imminent, that number remains unofficial.