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Principal Mark Sylte: A New Vision for YCIS

November, 2010
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This school year, Yew Chung International School of Shanghai (YCIS Shanghai) welcomed Mr. Mark Sylte as their new secondary western co-principal.

Before YCIS Shanghai, Sylte has had many years of experience at two prestigious independent day schools in the USA.

Here at YCIS Shanghai, Sylte is not just an administrator; he is also a parent, with all four of his children studying at the school.

“Everyday, going home to see how my children are excited about school and how happy they are and how challenged they are - there is a lot of learning to build on,” said Sylte. He admitted that a large part of his decision to come here has to do with his family.

“It is a gift to our children to grow up in a different country with the language we think is central for their future. They may struggle in the first two years as everyone does, but it is a joy to be here and see their eyes opened up to a different world, a different culture and a different way of doing things.”

mark-sylte-1sSylte himself doesn’t have to struggle, as he speaks perfect Chinese, and this isn’t his first time living in a culture where he speaks the language well enough to really feel he fits in the community. Below, Sylte takes a moment to discuss his role and plans for YCIS Shanghai.


LittleStar: What do you like about YCIS Shanghai?

Principal Sylte: When you look at a school, you have to start with the students. We can surely talk a lot about their academic successes. I noticed one of our 2010 graduates this year achieved 44 points out of 45 in the IB exams. We have great hardworking students, so they earn what they get. We are very proud of them!

I have been here for just two months, but the reports I have from new students coming in this year, especially from their parents, is that they have very quickly found friends and people they can talk to. One thing that keeps many moms and dads up at night is: will my children find a home at school? Will my children be happy and comfortable here? From the parents and students I have talked to, I know YCIS Shanghai is a welcoming community.

The teachers here are highly professional with high expectations for the students and very giving of their time. We are blessed with a wonderful group of dedicated individuals who enjoy being with students and helping them.

Our students are from 47 different countries and regions. Many of them are not just second language learners.  They are third language learners or even fourth language learners who embrace YCIS Shanghai’s Chinese and Chinese culture classes out of curiosity and respect for our host country while studying full time in English. Students are not only achieving great academic results but also deriving phenomenal personal growth from this fusion of cultures and curricula.

LittleStar: This is your first time working with Vickie He, as YCIS has a Co-principal system. Why does YCIS have this Co-Principal system? What is the work division between you two?

Principal SylteThe advantage of coming in new is that you bring in a lot of new experiences and different ways of thinking and doing things. Every school needs a period time to bring in new things from outside to test what you are doing.

The teamwork between a western co-principal and a Chinese co-principal at YCIS Shanghai increases the sense of community, social memory and understanding between different cultures.

There are quite obvious benefits to the co-principal system. For example, it prevents you from doing things that have already been tried and found ineffective. A lot of mistakes can be avoided.  Ms. Vicki He and I are also equally responsible for everything at school. It is sometimes true that a parent feels more comfortable talking to Ms. He or the other time a parent likes to talk me. This is something I wish I had in my last position.

LittleStar: YCIS Shanghai Pudong campus has just been authorized to launch the IB DP program and YCIS Puxi has been running IB DP for quite a few years. As a certified IB Diploma Program administrator and a teacher of Theory of Knowledge, how do you look at the IB program and its increasing popularity?

Principal Sylte: IB is popular for a few reasons. IB is a very practical program. As we all know, the international school community is very transient.

Many students have to begin with one program at this school and continue with another program at a different school. One of the advantages of IB, being an internationally recognized program, is that it does serve students who need to move on from one school to another without necessarily starting over again academically.

From an internal perspective, we judge a program based on its curriculum. What IB offers is a rigor and well-organized curriculum in a variety of areas.  It forces all students into a breadth of studies, which is crucial to their development. IB requires students to do 6 major areas, 3 of which move into the first year of college curriculum, the other 3 of which are recognized for depth and breadth. Meanwhile, students are required to do research and write a research paper, to perform community action projects serving the community around them, to get involved in physical activities and reflect upon them for greater self awareness. For the breadth of challenge and the depth of the material, we look at the IB program and say this is a great preparation for students.

LittleStar: YCIS has a very strong Chinese program; why is Chinese learning emphasized? 

Principal Sylte: Every school has to ask what their core competencies are. For YCIS Shanghai, it starts with our mission and philosophy and it starts with the definition of bilingual education. No child should come to YCIS Shanghai without embracing the language and culture of where we are – China. It is going to be regular and daily whether a student stays here for 2 years or 10 years. We have a team of academics who look at nothing but the development of Chinese language teaching materials for both students of Chinese heritage families and non-native speakers. Similarly, we have a group looking at English teaching.

When you ask our school parents why they choose YCIS Shanghai? The great student body, atmosphere, and Chinese language program are all highly valued.

LittleStar: What new ideas or changes can be expected from you in the new school year?

Principal Sylte: If I have one great passion, I would say it is for the appropriate use of technology in education. Technology is more than putting a laptop in the hands of every student or a smart board in every classroom. We want our students to be literate; we want them to be numerate; we want them to be creative; we want them to be open to failure and be able to get up again and try again… These are all things we have been teaching since the very beginning of education. Now, with new technologies, we hope to teach them even more effectively.

We live in a world in which there is an unlimited amount of information that can be accessed and must be processed by the students. We need to make sure they understand the new ways that information is stored and prepared.

So, not only do we have the proper tools for teaching, but also we are preparing them for the type of exchange of information and new technologies that are going to play a major role in life and later on at work.

That is perhaps my greatest passion.


By Xing Yangjian

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