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Meet Marci Russell: The New Head of Bandung Independent School

Meet Marci Russell: The New Head of Bandung Independent School
Meet Marci Russell: The New Head of Bandung Independent School

The prestigious, Bandung-based academy has recently minted its new leader — and she is here to share her perspectives and her vision for the future.

After 52 years of being one of the most notable and prominent education establishments in Bandung, West Java, Bandung Independent School (or BIS) has found its new Head of School in Marci Russell. After being a teaching member — endearingly termed ‘BIS Dragon’ — of the school for 13 years, Marci is embracing her new role with dedication, exuberance, and buoyancy for BIS’ future. Indonesia Expat had a chance to get to know Marci as the latter shared about how her 25 years of teaching experience have prepared her for her new role, what makes BIS stand apart from other international schools in the city, and what the students at BIS and their parents can expect under her newly minted leadership.

Who is Marci Russell? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am originally from Texas where I began my career in education 25 years ago. After teaching in Texas where I met my husband, Richard Russell, who is also in education, we began our international teaching adventure that led us to Madrid, Spain, then to Cairo, Egypt, and finally to Bandung, Indonesia. Most of my experience in education has been with International Baccalaureate (IB) schools.

I have been a proud BIS Dragon for 13 years! When I first joined Bandung Independent School in 2011, I taught Middle Years Science, IBDP Biology, and Health and Personal Development. Over the years, I’ve taken on various leadership roles, starting as the IBDP Coordinator in 2014, progressing to Secondary Principal in 2020, Deputy Head of School in 2022, and now, as of August 2023, proudly serving as the Head of School. With each experience, I have grown to love BIS more and more and have had the opportunity to collaborate with community members to have a bigger impact on teaching and learning to continually improve the BIS experience.

Can you tell us the story of when you first discovered your passion for education? 

There wasn’t a single moment in time when I discovered my passion, but rather an evolving journey shaped by my experiences. While studying Marine Biology at Texas A&M University, I earned my SSI SCUBA instructor licence and found joy in teaching adults and children as open-water divers and sharing the underwater world with them. These newfound teaching experiences, combined with my desire to learn more about different cultures, and my goals for my career path evolved, resulting in me obtaining a Master’s in Education along with my teaching certification. My first time in the classroom was the start of it all when I began to realise how much I enjoyed seeing that spark in inquiring minds when they learn something new.

Though four years of teaching in public schools in Texas provided valuable insights and experiences, I felt something was missing from the path I wanted to be on. It became clear that the international perspective gained from a diverse student body and teaching staff was something I wanted to learn more about. I wondered how learning could be impacted by such diversity. Once I moved to Spain and started teaching through the IB Diploma Programme, I knew I had found what I was looking for. Each subsequent year in education has brought me new lessons, reinforcing my passion for developing inquisitive minds and a positive learning environment. The added layers of an international-minded curriculum and a diverse school community finally felt like the perfect fit.

My journey continues, and as I have taken on various leadership roles, I have had more opportunities to share my experiences and insights into the world of education while I learn from the school and surrounding communities. This ongoing journey has shaped not only my career but also my understanding of the impact education can have on myself, individuals, and communities.

You have been a part of Bandung Independent School for 13 years. What drove you to later become the new Head of School?

I have been at BIS for many years and have seen a few Heads of School come and go during that time. I learned something from each and every one of them, gradually shaping the kind of leader I wanted to be. When the opportunity was presented to me, I thought about how much I love the school and the people. My love for the BIS community combined with my historical knowledge of the changes in the past could, together with the community, have a bigger impact on changes for the future as the Head of School. The ethos of the school and its focus on a holistic high-quality IB education perfectly aligns with my own beliefs on education. I have seen our programs shape many students into caring alumni who make the world a better place and bring our community closer together. This shared belief and the chance to help the school grow along with the support from the Board, led to my move to Head of School. At BIS, our Mission, Vision, and Values are not just for the students, but for the whole community — including myself. I consider myself a lifelong learner and a risk-taker, and this was an opportunity for me to exercise both attributes.

Working in various positions at the school, from IBDP Coordinator to Secondary Principal, then Deputy Head of School, helped me to learn how our school works in depth. I picked up on our challenges and possibilities. With this experience, I was set up to lead the school successfully.

Finally, the strong collaboration and unity found in the Bandung Independent School community is key. Our dedicated faculty and staff, active students, supportive parents, and committed Board all contribute to shaping a place where superior learning can happen. Stepping into the role of Head of School isn’t about advancing my career. Rather, it’s my commitment to continue nurturing our diverse learning community and to strive for BIS to reach its full potential through changing times.

I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing success of Bandung Independent School, instilling a positive learning environment and shaping the future of our students.

Bandung Independent School
Bandung Independent School
Please briefly tell us about Bandung Independent School.

For over half a century, Bandung Independent School (BIS) has provided a high-quality, internationally-minded education where students have access to entering universities worldwide. Our educational model balances academic rigour and personal development while fostering a diverse and inclusive learning environment. BIS integrates the most up-to-date educational practices with a focus on the International Baccalaureate (IB) program to empower inquiring, reflective, and caring lifelong learners to continue striving towards a better world.

We aim to champion individual potential and cultivate leaders and BIS stands out because of its dedicated and experienced faculty members who are passionate about inspiring and guiding each and every student towards reaching their full potential. Our facilities are designed to enhance the learning experience that supports all of our programs including academics and extracurricular activities.

With a tight-knit community, BIS values active parent involvement by working in a collaborative way as partners in education with parents. The school’s Mission, Vision, and Values revolve around preparing students to become independent and responsible global citizens, equipped with the skills and values necessary to be successful in a rapidly changing world. Our community worked together to create these guiding statements and we continue to work together to fulfill them through everything we do.

From your perspective only, what sets Bandung Independent School apart from other international schools in West Java?

Bandung Independent School (BIS) stands out from other schools in West Java for several reasons. The first is our commitment to the International Baccalaureate (IB) philosophy. The IB programmes are acknowledged worldwide for encouraging problem-solving skills, creativity, and global awareness. They teach students to be independent in their learning through a rigorous curriculum. BIS is the only IB Continuum school in Bandung offering the IB Primary Years, Middle Years, and Diploma Programmes, which help to create a seamless transition as students progress towards graduation. The IB is respected by universities globally, presenting our students with the possibility to study abroad.

The school’s diverse community and inclusive learning environment bring varied cultures and perspectives together. This mix prepares students for a world that is more connected than ever, encouraging them to learn from, respect, and search for ideas different from their own.

BIS is known for its committed educators who use teaching approaches to motivate students and cultivate a love for learning. Our faculty members have expertise in learning and teaching through the IB and in a variety of international settings. A significant 71% of our teachers have Master’s degrees or higher. The collaboration among teachers, students, and parents promotes an environment that encourages both academic and personal development.

At BIS, we pride ourselves on championing individual potential. Our dedicated Student Support Team, comprised of the Principals, School Counselor, Well-being Coordinator, Child Protection Officers, English Support Coordinator, and Learning Support Teacher, provides personalised attention for each student. We create tailored action plans for those facing academic or social challenges, and everyone who works at BIS has been trained in child protection to ensure a safe learning environment for our students.

Our teachers actively engage with students daily in the classrooms and during our advisory periods, “Dragon Time,” fostering a supportive learning environment. Also, starting in Grade 9, our University Counselor provides group and one-on-one support for students and parents to guide them through the university application process. This approach to individualised support for each student’s academic and personal success is not something you will find at all schools.

Finally, BIS places a focus on holistic development, offering a range of extracurricular activities and resources that complement the academic curriculum. Our extracurricular activities program covers 6 areas of holistic development: Leadership, Well-Being, Community, Academic, Service Learning, and Creativity. This focus on a well-rounded education ensures that students not only excel academically but also develop essential life skills.

The school’s continuous commitment to excellence, individual potential, its global perspective, and the nurturing community collectively contribute to setting Bandung Independent School apart as the school of choice for the internationally-minded community of West Java.

Bandung Independent School’s vision is to champion individual potential and cultivate leaders, as the school of choice for the internationally-minded community of West Java. From your perspective, why is it so vital to cultivate a sense of leadership in children from an early age?

It is vital to cultivate a sense of leadership in children from an early age for several reasons. Some of them include:

  • Soft skill development: Leadership skills are essential for effective communication and collaboration. Learning leadership from an early age teaches students to be flexible, confident problem solvers who can listen and take into account the diverse perspectives of others. Leaders learn to adapt to unforeseen circumstances that can present challenges, learn to think critically and find innovative solutions to those challenges. These interpersonal skills support academics but also equip them with tools needed to be successful beyond the classroom, at university, and in future careers that may not exist yet.
  • Well-being: Growing up is difficult, and children are faced with all sorts of social challenges, especially as technology evolves. By developing a sense of leadership, we encourage confidence and self-esteem. As students assume leadership roles, they develop a deeper understanding of themselves, their strengths, and their abilities. This can help motivate them to pursue their goals and help them contribute to their school community as well as outside communities.
  • International-mindedness: Developing a sense of leadership in students from an early age is an important step in teaching students responsibility and accountability for their actions, which will help them understand how their actions can affect themselves and others to make ethical decisions. In an increasingly interconnected and globalised world, BIS students are being prepared to become global citizens with an international mindset through leadership education. Understanding different cultures, perspectives, and global issues enables them to make meaningful contributions to society.

Building leadership skills is one of the components of our holistic approach to education. BIS strives to provide students with not only strong academic skills but also positive individual qualities, character attributes, and determination to make the world a better place. At BIS, we give students many opportunities to practice and develop these leadership skills through classroom activities and extracurricular activities. In the classroom, students may take the leadership role of a particular project or collaborative activity. While outside the classroom, we see students as Student Council (STUCO) members, House leaders, and Extracurricular Activity leaders.

Bandung Independent School first opened its doors to students in 1972. Almost 52 years later, how does Bandung Independent School respond and adapt to the changing times?

Bandung Independent School’s 52 years of excellence is a testament to its resilience and adaptability. We are committed to evolving with the changing times. Here are some of the ways BIS has adapted and embraced change over the years:

  • Curricular Changes: BIS adapts its curriculum to modern educational and international best practices integrating innovative teaching methods and ongoing reviews for improvement to academic programs to ensure we are offering students the best education through changing times.
  • Technology Integration: BIS features the latest technology tools and resources to ensure that the learning experience is always fun and relevant while preparing our students for a future of ever-changing technology.
  • International Perspective: International-mindedness is a key practice at BIS and we are happy to have a diverse community where students can be exposed to differing cultures, global issues, and perspectives. This prepares students to be successful in an ever-changing world.
  • Professional Development: BIS makes a regular investment in the ongoing professional development of our faculty and members, so that we all may stay abreast of the latest educational trends, pedagogical advancements, and best practices. We expect teachers to be lifelong learners themselves, which enhances the overall quality of education provided through changing times.
  • Community Engagement: The beauty of BIS is in its community, so we make it a point to actively engage with parents and students and listen to their needs and expectations. Parent and student participation in our school community is and has always been important to the school. Regular feedback helps us to better understand the changing needs of the community members. Ideas and suggestions from our community are always welcomed and encouraged.
  • Facilities and Infrastructure: BIS continually invests in facility and infrastructure improvement to provide students with an environment that is safe, modern, and supportive — both inside and outside of the classroom. Our lessons are inquiry-based and student-centred, and our campus has purposefully built spaces such as the Maker Space, Culinary Arts Centre, and Garden to give them spaces to be creative critical thinkers. We are continually looking at ways we can improve our campus to suit the needs of changing technology, changes in curriculum, and the changing needs of the community.

BIS is proactive in responding to and embracing change. By staying dynamic and adaptive, the school ensures that it continues to provide a high-quality education that prepares students for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

Will there be new ideas and initiatives that students and parents can expect this year from you as the new Head of School?

As the new Head of School, I am excited about introducing innovative ideas and initiatives to enhance the BIS experience. Having been a BIS Dragon for 13 years, I have enjoyed seeing and being a part of the school’s growth. However, as I have mentioned before, change is a collaborative effort. Ideas and initiatives begin by listening to the community, not solely from the Head of School. We continually gather feedback from our community as well as our accrediting bodies (CIS, NEASC, and IB) to determine ways we can improve.

We are excited about some of the projects that we are currently developing. First, there are some initiatives that have just begun that we are continuing to develop. We were accredited with the IB MYP in 2022, and we are continuing to develop the programme for Grades 8-10 while also looking at ways we can ease the transition for students moving from the PYP or to the DP. Second, we will continue to build and improve the BIS Partnership program that we started this year to connect with local businesses. We have also introduced our Leave Your Legacy program for gift-giving to help us expedite our campus, program funding, and overall growth. Another recent initiative is to reconnect with our alumni and bring back and enhance alumni events that were lost during COVID-19.

As for future plans, we have carefully gathered data to analyse areas of improvement that support our Mission, Vision, and Values. We will be enhancing our activities program including our extracurriculars such as service learning clubs, environmental awareness clubs, and athletics. We have also recognised that as our school grows, there is a need to update our science labs, and classroom spaces, and to add a community space to our campus. As such, our biggest upcoming project is a new building, which will begin construction in June 2024. This new building will open up many opportunities to further enhance our academics, extracurricular activities, and community events. We are excited about the new building plan and know it will be a big improvement to our facilities. Looking further into the future, we will continue to upgrade our facilities and are considering our library and sports facilities.

These initiatives are only a taste of what’s to come. At BIS, our community is enthusiastic about constantly evolving and keeping things fresh and exciting while also staying true to our traditions. Our Mission, Vision, and Values were created collaboratively with students, parents, faculty, and staff, so it is important to us that changes are as well. Working collaboratively with the community brings us together and gives us all a sense of ownership in the direction of the school.

The Playground Area at Bandung Independent School
The Playground Area at Bandung Independent School
Based on your experience, what can expat families, in particular, expect by living in Bandung?

I have lived in Bandung for 13 years, and absolutely love it. I believe it is a hidden gem in Indonesia that doesn’t always come up on the radar for expatriate families. The city is surrounded by picturesque landscapes, and the elevation provides a much cooler climate than other cities in Indonesia. There are many opportunities to see Bandung’s natural beauty through hiking and biking groups that expats can join. In addition to its natural beauty, Bandung is also known for its cultural diversity. Expat families can immerse themselves in the local traditions, arts, and cuisines. Indonesians are warm and welcoming people to expats and love to share their culture with others. Many people in Bandung speak English. However, there are many opportunities to learn Indonesian with the help of classes and private lessons.

There are also ways that expats can find the comforts of home depending on where they are from. Several supermarkets, speciality shops, and restaurants offer diverse cuisines and ingredients. The city’s affordable cost of living compared to other major Indonesian cities is another attractive feature. This affordability extends to housing, transportation, and daily expenses, contributing to a more accessible and comfortable lifestyle for expat families.

There are also fun activities to enjoy in Bandung beyond the biking and hiking mentioned above. You can find just about anything here, from international movies and arcades to shopping malls, a water park, and a range of sports activities such as golfing, tennis, badminton, and basketball to name a few. Places such as Java Adventure Company, the Lodge Maribaya, and NuArt offer a vast array of activities and experiences for expats.

To be completely transparent, at times, the traffic can be bad, but has vastly improved over the years. Travel between cities, especially Bandung and Jakarta, is easy with the addition of the toll road, train, and the new high-speed “Whoosh” train. Families wanting to send their children to BIS while living in Jakarta can get to Bandung in 30 minutes using the “Whoosh” train and be picked up at the station using our BIS school bus.

Being in a tropical environment, there are some tropical diseases such as Dengue fever which is prevalent in Indonesia, but the hospitals in Bandung are well-equipped and offer vaccinations. Another thing to keep in mind is that though there is crime in every city, Bandung feels safe. For example, while walking my dog at night, I have never been approached or felt unsafe. I am always treated with kindness and respect, and I see Bandung as a comfortable and happy place to be.

In my opinion, Bandung stands out as an inviting destination for expat families seeking cultural richness, natural beauty, a strong sense of community, and an amazing education for their children at Bandung Independent School. To learn more about living in Bandung, you can visit our website at: https://www.bisedu.or.id/about/living-in-bandung

Lastly, how can our readers get in touch with you and Bandung Independent School?

Feel free to email us at:

Annisa Wahyuni – Admissions and Marketing Officer

Or come by for a school visit. Here’s our address:

Jalan Surya Sumantri No. 61, Bandung, West Java 40164

Feel free to also call or WhatsApp us via the following numbers:

  • Phone: +62 22 2014995
  • WhatsApp: +62 811-2142-400

Visit us online:

bisedu.or.id

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