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World Mag > WM Summer 2015 edition > Interview with Matthew Werner

Interview with Matthew Werner

AISB Parent / AISB Board of Trustees Chair / Management Counselor at the US Embassy in Romania
Matthew Werner
Matthew Werner

WM: How did you start your career in International Diplomacy? What are the main roles of your job in Bucharest?

MW: It all started when I was in High School. I never travelled as a kid. I stayed in the same general area of the United States and did not have a pass- port, which is very unlike the kids here. When I was in High School, I had the opportunity to do an exchange program of three weeks in the Soviet Union. “First trip, go big,” sort of thing. Based on this trip I knew I wanted to do something international.

After I nished High School, I went to university in Washington DC and I studied International Relations. When I graduated, I worked for the World Bank for a couple of years but it wasn’t the right job for me. I always had a love for history and politics, and I always knew that I wanted to work in the international sphere, so after about four years, I ap- plied and got into the State Department, what we call the Foreign Service.

As to my role here, the role of any Dip- lomat is, rst and foremost, to promote the interests of our own country. Speci - cally, I am the Management Counselor at the US Embassy, which involves Human Resources, hiring and ring, the budgets, the physical structure, IT; basically the administration of the place.

Because the United States have not had an ambassador in Romania, I have also been the Deputy Chief of Mission several times. I spent a year in that role, here in Bucharest. It has a much more public angle; dealing with the Romanian government a lot more and assisting the change: helping them move forward.

WM: Why did you move to Romania?

MW: In the Foreign Service, we have a bidding process where we do not necessarily get to pick where we go; we are in- volved in the process but someone else still makes the ultimate decision. When I was in my last assignment and the time had come, my wife and I looked at what was available: we looked at the jobs,the cities we would be living in, whether or not language would be available, the schools, the housing, whether my wife could get a job. To be honest, from the beginning of the process, Romania was really our top choice. We are very happy and lucky that we managed to come here.

WM: What is your involvement with AISB?

MW: I have three layers of involvement. First and foremost I am a parent; I have two kids in the school. Over the last three years I have been at the school quite a lot as a parent attending great school wide events or just events in the classroom and obviously parent-teacher meetings, as well as school community events such as the Terry Fox Run.

In my official Embassy role as the Management O cer, I am the liaison between the Embassy and AISB. I will get involved if the embassy parents have an issue with the school, make sure the payments are made, and other adminis- trative issues.

Thirdly, I have been very blessed to be the Chair of the Board of Trustees of AISB for the past two years. I also sit on the Educational Policy Committee and the Governance Committee. Through the Board, I have been involved in a number of aspects at the school; for example I was involved in the search for Dr. Brindley, the new AISB Director as of this school year.

Between the three roles, there have been times when I am at the school weekly, and sometimes multiple times a week, so I can say that I am heavily involved.

WM: What is the importance of an international school in the larger global community?

MW: I see two aspects here. One, is the physical role that the school plays just by being here. Having a good interna- tional school, whether it’s an American curriculum, British, French etc., is an attractant for international companies, for businesses, and for diplomats. I have personally heard that for many interna- tional corporations, the existence and quality of an international school is a major in uence in how many expats they have here. It plays a huge role.

And the second aspect: I also think that an education in an international school plays a very important role in the global community because it leads to produc- ing, what we call, Global Citizens. We have a real mix in the school; there are people from all around the world: children of diplomats or managers from di erent corporations, children from the host country whose parents are mem- bers of government or business men and women, children of the teachers, and scholarship students.

This mix at the very least should create a culture of tolerance and respect for other cultures, faiths, and communities, and
it produces, what we call, a true Global Citizen.

WM: How would you describe a Global Citizen?

MW: I think a Global Citizen is someone who enjoys travelling and meeting people, who has an understanding that we no longer live in a world where you can be invisible and cut yourself o from the rest of the world. As we saw in 2008, it’s a global economy! What happens in one place a ects everywhere else. We are truly all in this together. Regardless of one’s belief in climate change or the politics happening in di erent places, regardless of how one feels about the concept of global economy, they all have an impact on all of us even if it’s just how people react to those concepts. People, who, from an early age, receive an education that allows them to understand these concepts and issues and prepares them to deal with these things, become future leaders.

It does not mean that one has to give up his or her culture or home country. I con- sider myself to be a global citizen, yet I am also very patriotic. Just because I believe that the USA is a wonderful place and I promote our points of view, I don’t think that makes me blind to the importance of other countries and cultures and the value that they provide. Being a Global Citizen allows you to be both open-minded, while staying true to your roots, and nowadays that is critically important for the future.

WM: What is your advice to parents raising Global Citizens?

MW: Be as involved and engaged in your child’s education as you can be! Depending on the culture one comes from, especially in the US, the school some- times is seen as a babysitter in that – one parks their kids there and lets them run with it. That does not work anymore. A parent has to know what is going on and be in communication with the school.

I encourage parents to get involved in the PTO and the Board of Trustees. If people have an interest, they should de nitely raise their hand and make themselves known as the Board of Trustees look for people who are already engaged in the school when selecting new members.

The IB, as a framework on how the school is run, is still relatively new. It’s been in existence for quite a while now, but its spread across the face of the globe is a new phenomenon popping up everywhere. Parents have to educate themselves as to what that means and what is going to happen. The IB is not for everybody. Personally, I like it and IB schools will be a factor in our bidding process. Schools are not a “one size ts all” deal. Parents need to know what is going on in the school to have the right expectations. Every parent should expect the best and if they’re not getting the best, they should work towards it. But it is hard work, one can’t just de- mand something and expect it to happen overnight.

WM: How do you see the school changing in the next 5 to 10 years? What about the Alumni Association?

MW: In order to answer these questions we have to go back a few years. Several years ago, the Board of Trustees made the decision to go from three classes per grade level, to four. That decision automatically changes the future of the school. Is the school going to max out at 600 – 700 students? Or is it going to max out at 1000 – 1100 students? That is a big change. That decision prompted huge growth in the school over the last 5 years. Under the previous Director,

Dr. Ottaviano, the school made huge strides forward to deal with the changes to accommodate that growth. Under Dr. Brindley, what we are seeing is a continuation of that.

Right now, and certainly during my time here, we’re seeing a change of what I like to describe as a “mom and pop style” organization – in which decisions can be made via consensus and there are more people involved, and where things can sometimes get done on the y – to
a more corporate mentality where the school is of a size now where we have to have strict plans on how we’re going to handle things and where we’re going. We just have too many students to operate how we were operating 7 years ago.

Where is this taking us? I think that over the next 2 years there are going to be many changes in order to complete the transition to a more corporate mental- ity. We are becoming a more recognized international school outside of Romania. We’re moving from a good or very good school, to a potentially great school that will be renowned throughout Central and Eastern Europe and perhaps worldwide. 10 years out is kind of hard to predict, but hopefully the trend will continue.

The Alumni Association... 3 years ago we didn’t even have one. So hopefully what we will see out of you over the next 5 years is further consolidation, a fully functional association which has a set role on how it engages with the alumni, the up and coming alumni and the community. The association will have to gure out what roles they play and how to do that.

WM: How do you think the school can benefit from the AA?

MW: An association such as yours can do many, many things. Besides reaching out to people who have attended the school, working with recent gradu- ates, and developing a social-business network, associations are fund-raising organizations from which the school and their own members who have seen a hardship or a tragedy can benefit. I believe the association can serve a pow- erful mentoring role to those kids who are about to enter the real world. Alumni can provide information about schools or even help kids to get into schools, and help people nd roles in business and the community after they are nished with their schooling.

One change that you will see Dr. Brindley push, is how fundraising is done here. The Alumni Association will get more involved in the future. Right now the PTO’s fundraising goes both to scholar- ships and grants programs. The Alumni Association will need to come up with a plan on what to do. Will you want to fund additional scholarships? Will you want to fund a di erent grants program? Will you be helping out those in need among your current members or doing something for the school, like building a functional classroom? There are many things that can be done and that should be done.

So far you have made good initial prog- ress. Now you are in that growing pains phase when you’re trying to create that vision. At some point you will have to make that decision to move things for- ward and see what will happen and how people respond.

WM: You and your family are leaving Bucharest at the end of this school year. What will you miss most about Romania and AISB?

MW: Bucharest has been really the most livable posting that we’ve had. The kids have had a great school experience, we’ve really enjoyed where we’ve lived, my wife has been able to work, which is never a guarantee wherever we go, and professionally it has been a great experience for me not just by manag- ing an embassy of this size, but also having the opportunity of being Deputy Chief of Mission for so long. There is a lot of stress that comes alongside these responsibilities, but it has been a really good professional experience. 

All the things above are never a guaran- tee when you move to a new place, so we will miss Bucharest. For the school, although it has been an incredible   amount of work, I’ve had the luxury of playing such a pivotal role here, and see- ing so much positive change is just an amazing experience. I don’t know if I will have the opportunity to be that engaged with a school again in the future. I really think AISB is headed towards true great- ness and I really look forward to seeing where the school is year after year, and to see how the things that I have been a part of will continue. It’s been a wonderful experience! 

Read the entire WORLD Magazine Summer 2013 edition here. 


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