Stuart Chaussee

Chadwick International Opens in Korea

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

Ted Hill, headmaster of Chadwick School, and Kurt Gibbs, a Chadwick trustee, PVE resident, and architect and real estate developer visit the Chadwick International campus in Songdo City, South Korea.

In September, Chadwick International began classes for its first year of operation in Songdo City in the Incheon Free Economic Zone in South Korea. It is the first-ever international school in a free enterprise zone in Korea. Chadwick International School represents one of the most technologically advanced school facilities in the world with such hi-tech features as Telepresence, WebEx, and Smartboard technologies. Cisco Systems is providing the infrastructure for the new city, a template for what it calls “Smart+Connected Communities.” I recently spoke with Ted Hill, headmaster of Chadwick School, and Kurt Gibbs, a Chadwick trustee, PVE resident, and architect and real estate developer, about the opening of the new school.

Chaussee: Give us some background on the city of Songdo.

Gibbs: The city of Songdo is one of several free enterprise zone cities that have been set up by the South Koreans which is to be an idealized, utopian, brand-new, master-planned city. As one of several in the country, this particular development, upon completion, will be 1,500 acres, 45,000 housing units, 45 million square feet of office space and 10 million square feet of retail. There is also a one-hundred acre Central Park and a 350,000 square foot Convention Center. About one third of this has already been built. The international school is one component of this quality of life. The whole idea behind the Master Plan was to create an idealized city whereby you could work, go to school and play, all within a bike ride or a short walk. So, it is literally master-planned by Gale International (New York) to be just that. It started from what was quite literally a mud flat nine years ago… it wasn’t even land.

Chaussee: Is that when the plans for the city got started?

Gibbs: They started filling in the dirt about nine years ago and they’ve been building it now for about five years. It is a $40 billion project and it’s been labeled as the largest private real estate development in the world. It is within a three-hour plane ride of one-third of the world’s population. If you buy into the thinking that “Europe was yesterday, the U.S.A. is today and Asia is tomorrow,” then it is right at the epicenter of the growth of that region and it is a very exciting place to be.

Chaussee: Who put up the money for the project?

Gibbs: Posco, a large South Korean steel company, and Gale International, a New York real estate company, are in partnership together on the project. Right now they are about one-third of the way through with the development and have spent roughly $10 billion. It is supposed to be about a 10-year project, but as construction and city building can go, it may end up taking 15.

Chaussee: And, they are about five years into the project so far?

Gibbs: Yes, they are about one-third of the way there. And the school, Chadwick International, was purpose-built for an international school. It is half a million square feet on 17 acres with 100 classrooms. It has a gymnasium, pool, playing fields, etc.

Chaussee: Ted, how did the idea of Chadwick International becoming involved come about?

Hill: We receive, I would say, once a month on average, something from Asia about some sort of educational venture. We’ve been approached by a high school in Beijing about helping them start an AP science program. We’ve been approached by an organization in Viet Nam about starting a school there. Various ideas have come our way in East Asia and we have looked at them, but hadn’t found one that we thought was mission appropriate that would also be helpful to Palos Verdes. Then, at the end of October last year, we were approached by the organization that had built the city and the school. They wanted to see if we were interested in running a school in Songdo, South Korea. They ultimately decided, after some false starts over a couple of years, that what they wanted was a West Coast, U.S., highly regarded, independent school to run the school there. So, they put together a small delegation and came to visit some of the schools that they were considering. Chadwick was one of those schools. They visited with us and it looked as though there were some possibilities and we thought it was at least worth further exploration.

They then offered to fly a few of us over there pretty quickly to take a look at the facility, and we did. We were able to put together a team to go over there — an international attorney, Kurt from a facilities point of view, a Korean-American trustee that we have, and me. We put together a good team that would explore this further. So, between the beginning of November and January, I went over there four times and various trustees and others went over as well. Going down the path of due diligence and what the opportunity presented, and in terms of risks and challenges because it’s a very unusual opportunity, unprecedented at least in Korea in a free-enterprise zone. That’s how it got started over the course of a few months, and in January of this year the Board approved our effort to continue to explore this opportunity. We then continued through the rest of the spring working on the education side, the legal side, in addition to working with the Ministry of Education in Korea. That was a tremendous effort.

Chaussee: You mentioned risks. What do you see as the biggest risks to this venture?

Hill: We looked at a combination of risks. One is certainly our unfamiliarity with the landscape, so, there is distraction risk, as far as how are we going to staff this and deal with this in a way that we maintain an acute focus on very high quality education in Palos Verdes. We looked at financial risk, legal and government risks because this is highly regulated as far as what the Korean government wants to see. We had to quantify all of these risks, to the extent that we were capable, and determine what mitigations were available to us. The other is reputational risk. Look, we try to do everything in a first rate manner at Chadwick so if there is going to be another Chadwick, we want to ensure that everything is done there in a similar manner, even though it’s not going to be identical to how it’s done in Palos Verdes.

Chaussee: What are the financial risks?

Hill: Well, they leased us the facility for five years at no cost, so that’s highly favorable for us. However, to start a school that is going to build and grow gradually, you run operating losses in the early years, so we needed to have an agreement by which they would underwrite those losses and that is what we have. One of the preconditions to this effort was that none of the existing assets at Chadwick in Palos Verdes could be put at risk by this venture. The Board decided that any agreement would have to insulate Chadwick in Palos Verdes from any financial loss or risk and we were able to do that.

Chaussee: I would imagine that getting that risk out of the equation would make Chadwick International a pretty easy “sell” here locally.

Hill: That was certainly an absolutely critical part of it. We were crystal clear about that from the beginning. And then you have the part about operating in Korea and how the government may change or how the laws may change. The government has been extremely supportive. They want this school and they want it to be first class. So they are very happy that Chadwick is there. That said, it is the first school of its kind in Korea and the government has the intention of starting other international schools run by American, U.K. or Canadian quality schools. So, since this is the first one, they want to make sure it is done correctly.

Chaussee: Kurt, how did you get involved in the project and what has been your role?

Gibbs: First of all, we have an incredibly talented and bright Board of Trustees at Chadwick and they cover a whole range of expertise. Part of the reason that I got involved was simply my interest in the building of the new city of Songdo. It was over the top. A brand new city doesn’t come along every day and they are often dreamt of but rarely built. My particular role has been to be involved in what became essentially a rather compelling and complex real estate negotiation. The school was built as an amenity for the city, ready for an operator and they had to secure one. My role as an architect and developer came into play because I was able to understand the value of what they had planned (the city’s developer) and help out with the real estate negotiation — basically negotiating the contracts with Chadwick and the other parties involved. It was primarily a real estate operation transaction that we were entering into. There is a lease agreement and then additionally an operating agreement. We have let them know our intent, how we are going to use the facility and then we had to be licensed by the Korean government to run the school. Between that and the lease with our landlord, we are now in full gear and moving forward.

Chaussee: Did Chadwick turn to you to help negotiate these agreements and secure the license because of your background as an architect and real estate developer?

Gibbs: Yes, there was the architectural side of it which was to make sure what they had built made sense for Chadwick and also the real estate side, but again, we had a number of board members who were intimately involved with this through the whole process. I just happened to be more familiar with the real estate part of the process. I will say it has been an absolute pleasure to be involved with this and it’s a very compelling project.

Hill: Regarding Kurt’s involvement in the project, it initially started out with us looking at Chadwick International as a “facility.” And, with Kurt’s background as an architect and a developer he has tremendous experience in those fields. So it started out in a fairly narrow scope as far as looking at the facility to see how it is set up, is it what we need and how it will function. Then, it moved to dealing with the organization that built the city to structure the arrangements. The lease and those kinds of things that needed structuring where Kurt had a background; his help was invaluable. Kurt and our attorneys worked together in negotiating very favorable terms for Chadwick. Being a land-use professional, who deals with leases and these types of contracts all the time, Kurt had a phenomenal skill set. I would also say that Kurt’s personal qualities made him a very effective representative of the school. Then there has been this ongoing and developing relationship with Cisco Systems and Kurt has been instrumental with that as well. Lastly, he was willing to take the time to be there and that was huge. Some of the work can be done long distance, but we really needed him there and he was willing to travel and get it done.

Chaussee: How will the culture of Chadwick’s local private school in Palos Verdes influence the new school?

Gibbs: That is a big challenge for us. As Ted says, one of the things we know how to do very well is run a school and we’ve been doing it well for a long time. It is about the culture and the core values and how you implement them. We have people here involved in the new school, also locally in Songdo obviously, and an influx of people here going there to help do just that. We have both administrators and teachers from the local school who will work at the new school in Songdo. The idea with the measured, enrollment ramp-up is to make sure that the culture takes time. It will be different for sure. It will be Chadwick in South Korea, educating kids in an international baccalaureate program, but, as far as core values and the whole approach, it will be very different from a traditional Korean education. A typical Korean education is much more rote and about memorizing information and data rather than teaching the kids how to critically think, problem solve, etc. In addition, there is not much focus on outdoor education, the value of team building and relying on others, project-based solving of problems as teams. That will be integral to the curriculum as well.

Chaussee: Is there going to be any collaboration or interaction between Chadwick in Palos Verdes and Chadwick International as far as instruction and classroom activities?

Hill: Yes, we are working on that now. The teachers here are making connections with their colleagues in Songdo. The motto we have is that it is “One School, Two Campuses.” With Cisco Systems being involved, they are going to be installing Telepresence, which is top-of-the-line video conferencing technology, here in Palos Verdes and they already have that capability at the school in Songdo. It is in a classroom that is specially designed for this technology, not in every classroom, as that is cost prohibitive. I think we will have it in two classrooms here and two in Songdo. With this you will be able to have joint meetings of classrooms so that our first grade could actually have class with theirs in Songdo, but the time difference will present a challenge in this regard. We will get around that one way or the other and we will have the capability to have, for example, our history department meet with theirs and those kinds of things. And, from an administrative standpoint, we could communicate on a daily basis if we wanted to use Telepresence. So, we are looking to form the appropriate communications at the faculty, student and even at the parent level. We have a very strong parent organization at Chadwick in Palos Verdes and we are setting up the same in Songdo so it will be great for the two of them to collaborate. Our parent organization here is extremely well-organized and effective, so they can help the effort over there.

Chaussee: Do you anticipate student exchanges eventually?

Hill: Absolutely. Because we have the ability to control and coordinate the programs, it will be relatively easy for students from Palos Verdes to go to Songdo for a semester or for a student from there to come here. We also expect faculty exchanges. One of the nice things is there is housing for faculty over there and housing for faculty here on our campus too. This is a great opportunity that you really wouldn’t have unless you were in control of both schools, which we are. We have had a number of the faculty over there already spend time at Chadwick here, and a number of faculty from here over there, too. This will increase over time. We have identical mission statements: “Academic Excellence and Exemplary Character.” So we hope the collaboration between the two campuses will be invaluable for the faculty and the students alike, looking out over many years.

Chaussee: Does the Korean government have a say as far as curriculum in Songdo for Chadwick International School?

Hill: They had to approve what it was we stated as curriculum.

Chaussee: What is the make-up of the current student body at Chadwick International?

Hill: Well, after year five, by law, 70 percent of the students in the international school have to be international students. However, given the fact that the city has just been built, and is attracting international businesses, there was recognition that you couldn’t make this a requirement from the beginning because it was going to be heavily Korean. So there is a 5-year grace period before the 70-30 ratio has to be met. In year one, it is our expectation that the ratio will be 90 percent Korean and the international component will build over the coming four or five years.

Gibbs: As Ted stated, the school is set up to be an international school which means that under Korean law it will be 70 percent non-Korean passport holders and 30 percent Korean passport holders. Initially, because of the timing and late start this year, we do have some non-Korean passport holders, but the student body is primarily Korean and we are starting with 280 kids. It is kindergarten through seventh grade right now, but will be a K-12 school and it will eventually be about 2,100 students. Right now we are starting slowly and ramping up in a very measured way to make sure that the Chadwick culture gets embedded and takes.

Chaussee: Is it Chadwick International’s responsibility to reach the proper ratio by attracting foreign students and families, and is the government helping in this regard?

Hill: Well, if you go back to why they created the international free enterprise zone, it was to attract foreign investment and international business. So, for their purposes, there has to be a school that can serve those foreign students and it has to be first rate.

Chaussee: And the students, which are 90 percent Korean at the start, where are they from? Do they live in Songdo?

Hill: Some live in Songdo, some in Incheon, which is the large port city just north of Songdo, between Songdo and Seoul. Some of the students come from Seoul, too.

Chaussee: The families who enroll their kids at Chadwick International, and obviously pay a significant sum to do so (Chadwick International’s Web site shows the annual tuition cost at $24,000, grades K-5 and $26,000, grades 6-7), are these generally families that are well-off with international ties?

Hill: What the families are looking for is a first-class American education. The goal of many, if not all of the families, is to have their children, after graduating from Chadwick International, be prepared to attend American universities or other leading universities around the world. I was actually in Songdo near the end of the admissions process when we admitted the students, and the caliber of the applicants was outstanding. We had a significant pool of applicants to draw from and had to turn many away. In addition, the English proficiency of the students, even going down to kindergarten, was quite high and they are quite capable in other areas. For these Korean students to be able to get this style of education locally presents a unique opportunity. Consider this; our understanding is that in the U.S., there are some 35,000 Korean students below the college level, who have come here, oftentimes with their mother, to seek an American secondary education. So, Chadwick International in Songdo actually gives them an opportunity to stay home and get the education they want. Probably starting next year, we are also going to have a dormitory there and we are going to have boarding students. These students will come from elsewhere in Asia and other places, and this will be a way for us to increase the international population at the school.

Chaussee: Let’s switch gears for a moment and tell me about how the city and the school are part of this hi-tech movement and why Songdo has been dubbed “one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world.”

Gibbs: The city is hyper-connected from a technological standpoint. It’s a beta site for Cisco and they are going to have a number of products, including Telepresence, which is basically high-def videoconferencing, and the idea is to have both Chadwick here heavily collaborate with Chadwick International, through the use of this technology. There is also another infusion of technology that will come to the school, courtesy of the whole Cisco overlay. This will also be an infusion of networks and routers to allow all of this connectivity to take place. The school has made the decision, because of the hyper-connectivity of the city of Songdo, that the international campus will have education that is also leading edge. That will be from a collaborative, project-based learning standpoint and that does involve technology. We are making preparations now so that Chadwick here will certainly be on the same set of train tracks, although it will be a little bit behind simply because we are getting shot out of a cannon in South Korea from that standpoint, but we will catch up here locally.

Chaussee: Ted, I understand you have Dick Warmington running things at Chadwick International. Is his role the same as your role here at Chadwick in Palos Verdes?

Hill: The structure is slightly different than it is here, but the reason for that is it is a startup with so many moving parts and, being international, that it is required. Dick is the president of Chadwick International and under him is a headmaster. The headmaster of the school in Korea will really run the educational program while Dick will take care of all the other things that are involved in a fairly complicated startup in a new environment. Dick’s background, running a blended U.S.-Korean business over there with Hewlett Packard, and being familiar with Korea, the Korean government, corporations, etc., is a layer that is important, and of course having a Chadwick background (having graduated from Chadwick) is important, too.

Chaussee: Did you basically pull him out of retirement?

Hill: Yes, he’d been retired for 10 years from HP and he was happy up in Northern California, but when he heard of the project and got more involved, he really felt it was an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. He has strong connections in Korea and actually, because of his involvement, he has pulled some other friends of his out of retirement to help him over there. Let’s put it this way, he has reinvigorated those ties for the benefit of the school.

Gibbs: Dick is a Chadwick alumnus (1960), Stanford undergrad, Harvard MBA, and in the late 1980s, as Ted mentioned, he ran Hewlett Packard in Korea. He adopted two Korean children and then ended up on the Board of a school in northern California — a school very much like Chadwick. He has been a board member up there for 10 years and he has agreed to be the president of the new school for the first two years basically because he wants to, because he can, and because he is challenged by the new endeavor and he is perfect for the job. It’s like we created him in the laboratory; we view him as a perfect fit. He has been great — a very talented, energetic guy. PEN


comments so far. Comments posted to may be reprinted in the Easy Reader print edition, which is published each Thursday.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login