It's been a year of change at Cayman International School.
After having to act quickly and adapt to fully remote and online learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic, CIS — as the school is more often called — has also welcomed a new director, something that was planned for almost a year before the pandemic started.
New director Jim Urquhart was hired in May 2019 for the upcoming school year — a common practice for faculty members of International School Services, CIS’s governing body. He replaces Jeremy Moore, who accepted a position in South Africa.
“Typically with the transition of a new director, you’re doing things behind the scenes, getting to understand the school better,” says Urquhart. “Eventually you visit the school to meet everyone, determine if it’s a good fit and go your separate ways until the designated time.”
However, in the months leading up to his August arrival, Urquhart found his introduction to CIS to be a unique new-job experience.
“This has been different because the transition has taken place predominately via Microsoft Teams and Zoom," he says. "But it allowed me to spend more time with more people at the school before starting. Overall, it has been atypical, but still a very good experience.”
Urquhart’s transition to CIS might have culminated with being quarantined upon arrival in Cayman, but it started with a one-year sabbatical with his wife Alexandria (Andie) — who was also hired at CIS as a middle school counsellor — after completing an eight-year tenure as the director of the Anglo-American School of Sofia in Bulgaria.
“This was our first year as empty-nesters as our kids are now in college," he says. "During our sabbatical, we renovated a house, visited the Arctic Ocean, did some dog sledding and spent some extended time with our families,” he says.
Even after a year of adventure, the Urquharts have found the opportunity to work at CIS remarkable.
“We were pinching ourselves as the school’s community principles speak to us not only as teachers, but also as human beings,” he says. “Then, when we visited Cayman and CIS, we could feel the ‘CaymanKind’ through the school and its people, and that was the exclamation point for us.”
The physical plant and location of CIS also play a part in Urquhart's excitement over his new position, but ultimately, it's the people the Urquharts will be working with and living among that matter most.
“The school has lovely facilities and is located in a place the rest of the world would describe as paradise, but if you aren’t working with the right people and the right community, none of that matters," he says. "You can feel that the community at CIS is there for all the right reasons.”
As CIS gets ready for the school year with its new director, it is also gearing up to occupy its new high school building.
In 2018, Dart announced its partnership with CIS and International School Services to expand the school, resulting in an early childhood campus, completed in August 2019, and a high school building. Although the high school is nearing completion, its opening has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Secondary School Principal Doug Murphy says that the school is working with Dart to ensure the project is delivered this year despite the setback.
“We’re looking at November as the handover date, after which we’ll get the space set up with the furniture and technology," he says. "We’re anticipating our start date in the building to be when we return from winter break in January."
Despite the challenges of not being able to move into its new space for the upcoming school term, the CIS community is doing what is necessary to ensure the academic experience for the students is minimally impacted.
“Sure, there is disappointment in the delay, but also a lot of understanding as we continue to come together as a community and support each other,” says Murphy. “We’ve increased staffing because of growth and have added courses to provide new opportunities and pathways for students, and we are going to keep these programmes running for the students.”
When CIS opens for the new school year this month, it will closely follow the back-to-school COVID-19 guidance issued by the government for the students' safety.
“With around 830 students, our school will again have the highest enrollment in its history and applications are coming in, which we welcome, especially for the high school as there is space by design with the expansion,” says Urquhart.
For more information or to apply to CIS, visit caymaninternationschool.org.
This article appears in print in the August 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.
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