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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Introduction to DAS and its History

Dhahran Ahliyya Schools (DAS) were founded in 1977 by Khalid and Sally Alturki as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing excellence in education in Arabic and English. While serving the local population of the AlKhobar/ Dammam/ Dhahran area, the school also aimed at developing best practices, materials, and educators that could contribute to the development of Arab education on a wider scale.

The doors of the school were first opened in the fall of 1977 with fifty-six students, six teachers and one secretary. Fatma AlGosaibi and Sally Alturki volunteered their time to provide the leadership. The school was first housed in three rented houses in the AlGosaibi compound, near the Carlton-Moaibed Hotel. After one year for the boys in a building in the Railroad compound in Dammam, both girls' and boys’ sections moved in 1980 to the portable buildings of an abandoned labor camp on land owned by the railroad on the edge of Dammam. The school grew gradually in that location -- without telephones until 1983. Also in that year, Aramco invited DAS to take over management of a new building which was to be leased in exchange for the reservation of half its seats for the dependents of Saudi Aramco employees at 65% of the normal tuition rate. After the period of construction, DAS moved into its current premises with a total of 398 students from Kindergarten through 12th grade (third secondary), eighty-six employees, fifty Apple computers for students, and seven IBM computers for administration. The first graduating classes of eighteen boys and thirteen girls held their graduation ceremonies in the new building in 1986.In 2013, the school has a total of 1817 students and will have its twenty-eighth graduating class.IMG 8756

A focus on continuous improvement through personal and collective professional development of its educators has been one of the strongest characteristics of the school since its founding. The first teacher training session was held before the opening of the first year and has continued consistently ever since with four weeks of every summer dedicated to faculty learning and collaboration for school improvement. The teachers were first organized into instructional teams with full time educational supervisors in 1983 and Directors of Training were first appointed in 1984. The first comprehensive plan for professional development of teachers and the linking of compensation to progress through the plan was established in the early 1980s and has gone through major revisions since that time to reach the current one called Plan for Continuous Progress in Learning (PCPL), last updated in 2009. The School’s work to define its mission, vision, and targeted characteristics as a professional learning community began in 2001 and is currently being re-invigorated through additional training and group efforts. As a result, new improvements in the PCPL are currently under consideration.

Whereas this focus on continuous improvement has led to many changes over the years, a big jump occurred in 2005 when the school was permitted to offer the advanced, Saudi secondary curriculum called Muqararat. A second, even bigger, leap forward came in 2008 when the school was offered the opportunity to become accredited internationally to offer its own curriculum through all the levels. After completion of the accreditation process in 2009, the school shifted to its current dual language plan with a new curriculum, which is explained in the section on educational programs on the DAS website and summarized in its annual report. At that time, the secondary students were given the opportunity to choose between the Muararat program, in which science and math are given in Arabic, and the American Diploma Program, in which science and math are given in English. This shift was accompanied by a flurry of international consultants and training, international teachers, international textbooks, and other materials. At this time, the school is still working to incorporate the new approaches, materials and methods into both the English program and the Arabic program in order to have both moving forward together.

The history of DAS can be said to have entered a whole new era in 2008, the beginning of its second thirty years and the beginning of the international curriculum. It will take time for the school to make full use of the new opportunities open to it and its students. The school has been greatly encouraged when its students travel outside to participate in international science fairs, robotics competitions, Model United Nations, Global Issues Network and other events as it has allowed the school to benchmark their development against that of students in other countries. The learning from these opportunities has been very important for both the students and the teachers for guiding our decisions about next steps in the school. Similarly, the involvement and guidance of international consultants has helped us make better plans for future development.

An important part of this new era is connected with our renewed work on developing ourselves as a professional learning community, focused on collaborating to enhance student learning through collective study of valid data and setting group action plans to achieve agreed-upon goals. Already in one year, we have seen excellent progress through the setting of school-wide SMART goals supported by team and personal SMART goals. A major expansion in the use of standardized tests and other kinds of valid results of learning has increased our ability to benefit from the data produced, improve our analysis of their meaning, and design more specific plans for meeting the challenges identified. Also, learning how to collaborate more effectively is helping us move forward faster.

As we continue to focus on continuous improvement, we will stand on the shoulders of the many committed educators who have dedicated themselves to DAS over these past thirty-six years. Their work has been essential to the development we see before us in this second thirty years of progress. We thank those who have helped in the past and offer our support to the new leaders of the future. Reaching the vision will never be easy but will always be the focus of the collaboration of the professional learning community that is Dhahran Ahliyya Schools.