Interview: Beth Pfannl leaves after 13 years leading AOSR
ROME - Dr. Beth Pfannl will be leaving the American Overseas School of Rome after 13 years as Head of School. She has 30 years of experience in the field of international education. Before becoming Head of School in 2006, she was the PreK-12 Principal at AOSR, and the Assistant Director General and Elementary Principal of the American School of Asuncion, Paraguay. She has served on the boards of numerous educational institutions, including the American University of Rome (AUR), the European Council of International Schools (ECIS), the International Schools Advisory Committee of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Paraguayan-American Cultural Center. Dr. Pfannl is past president of the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) and the Rome International Schools Association (RISA). In 2014, she was inducted into AAIE's Hall of Fame, and in 2003, she received the National Distinguished Principal Award from the Office of Overseas Schools (US Department of State), two of the most prominent accolades for international educators.
Her next position will be as a Vice President at International School Services (ISS), a non-profit organization that services international schools. She will be in charge of executive recruiting and promoting women in leadership roles around the world.
Italian Insider: Why did you decide to leave the American Overseas School of Rome?
Dr. Beth Pfannl: Last year I decided, after what would be 13 years at AOSR, that it was time to move on and do something different in my life. It was the right time to begin a new chapter. I wanted to be closer to my family, and I felt that we had taken the school to a new level. AOSR is now recognized as a leading American international school around the world.
Change is always good; someone new will bring in fresh ideas and continue to build on all that we have accomplished over the years.
I.I.: How did you get interested in the field of education as a career?
B.P.: My undergraduate and graduate studies were in international relations. I went into education following a career that actually combined international relations with education. After working for a number of years, I decided to go back to school for educational leadership. I earned a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in School Administration from Rhode Island College. I think that the combination of my undergraduate and graduate studies, together with my work experience, prepared me very well for a career in international education.
II: What have you liked the most about your job as Head of School?
BP: What I like the most is that I work together with an amazing team of educators. We do something that is incredibly important day in and day out. We are shaping the lives of children. Here at AOSR we take this task extremely seriously. I enjoy coming to work every single day unaware of what the day will bring. It’s a constant joy to know that we are part of a child’s learning; that we can watch them grow, and thrive, and that we can make learning fun. In my opinion, there is no better place to work than at a school.
II: Did you expect to see yourself 25 years ago in the position you are today?
BP: I had no idea! I was not even sure at that time that I would continue in the field of education. In fact, I never really planned how my career would progress. Opportunities just came along the way. I always worked very hard and tried to do my best. I feel that I have been very fortunate with the many opportunities I have had throughout my career. When I leave AOSR next month, I will go on to a new career opportunity. It’s in the field of international education but different. I will be able to work remotely and travel around the world. I will visit schools and still be able to watch child discover and learn.
II: How has it been to manage several roles throughout your career such as teacher, professor, administrator, and board member?
BP: I believe they all complement each other. Working as a school administrator in the field of international education has opened up many other doors for me. I discovered opportunities that I never thought existed, especially in areas that truly interest me. For example, I discovered that I am very interested in supporting and promoting women in leadership roles. I wasn’t aware that that could actually be a job. My new position after AOSR will give me the opportunity to give back by helping others as I was helped over the years.
I’ll work for a non-profit organization, International School Services (ISS), based in Princeton, New Jersey. ISS works with international schools around the world in the area in recruiting teachers and administrators, as well as providing a host of other services such as shipping educational supplies and setting up school foundations. I will be the Vice President in charge of executive recruiting and promoting women and minorities in leadership roles in schools around the world. I will be able to do this job remotely so I can live wherever I want to, which is very important to me at this point in my life. I am now a grandmother with two young grandchildren who recently moved to Europe. I am looking forward to having the freedom to be closer to my family and to be able to still do something that I am very passionate about. I will be able to remain in the world of international schools and that is very exciting for me.
II: Speaking of women in leading roles: how has being a woman impacted your career?
BP: School leaders around the world are still predominately male. It is not always easy to be a female in a role where the expectation is that it is a man’s job. Many colleagues have experienced problems in being a female leader in an international school or organization where a woman is not easily accepted in that role. We do represent 50% of the population on the planet! In my opinion, I see no reason why women cannot do anything and everything they want to. In my new position, I look forward to working with colleagues around the world to help provide opportunities and support for women to move into leadership roles.
II: What do you believe your leadership has brought to AOSR?
BP: My leadership has brought consistency. I think that it has been clear to others that I love what I do, that I want the best for children. I see myself as a role model not only for students but also for my faculty and staff. Everyone knows that the most important thing for me is that we provide the best possible environment for children to learn and thrive. That means that we have the best teachers - those who are passionate about what do. It’s the best profession in the world. Nothing brings greater joy than seeing the twinkle in a child’s eyes when you know they “got it!”
As the school’s mission statement goes: The American Overseas School of Rome prepares tomorrow's global leaders to meet the challenges of our changing world with courage and integrity. I feel like I live this mission every day on the job. It guides me to do what I do and make decisions that are always in the best interest of children. I’ve been fortunate to have an extremely dedicated Board of Trustees over the years that has always supported me along the way.
II: In your years at AOSR what changes were you part of and which would you like to see for the future?
BP: At AOSR we have a very experienced, dedicated, and passionate faculty and staff. I helped to put this faculty together and the emphasis has always been on delivering a challenging and rigorous academic program. I’m certain that new teachers hired in the future will continue to meet the high standards that we have established at our school. Over the years, we have worked very hard as a team to build on and strengthen our school’s culture as a warm and caring community where everyone is welcome regardless of nationality, race and religion. We are truly an international community; one that celebrates our similarities and differences.
On another note, one can certainly notice some of the physical improvements made on campus over the years that I have been at the school. I inherited a school many years ago with a long list of deferred maintenance projects. While there is still room for improvement, we now have a beautiful and safe campus that meets all the standards and regulations for a school of our size.
One of the big projects that I hope will continue after I am gone is the planning and construction of a new Performing and Fine Arts Center. This project will provide the school with a large theatre and additional classroom space for the performing and fine arts as well as an underground parking garage. This is something that is very much needed in this area of the Cassia.
The American Overseas School of Rome is currently collecting donations for the new Performing and Fine Arts Center. If you wish to take a look at the preliminary project and/or donate, visit the school’s website at www.aosr.org.
II: Which memories from your experience at AOSR come to your mind?
BP: There are so many wonderful memories that come to mind! If I’m having a “bad” day, or what may be considered a difficult day, all I have to do is walk into a kindergarten classroom. Children always come up and give me a hug. What could be better than that! It’s like a reality check for what we do and why we do it. Talking to high school students that I have watched grow up over the years is a constant reminder that what we’re doing is so important. I have so many beautiful memories from my years in this very special school community.
II: What would you advise young students who wish to pursue a similar career to yours?
BP: Do it! It’s a great career. I have absolutely no regrets and I would do it all over again if I had the chance and the opportunity.
II: Which words would you offer to the future Head of School?
BP: The new Head of School is a very fortunate individual. Michael Callan is inheriting a beautiful school, a wonderful school community. I have been working very closely with him throughout this transition period. He is a great school leader who will take AOSR to the next level.
II: What has living and working in Paraguay, United States of America, and Italy brought to your life experience?
BP: A global perspective: people are people, children are children, and human beings are human beings. This is something so important for all of us to remember especially at a time like this. There is so much suffering that we read about in the news every day.
We cannot simply turn a blind eye. Living in different countries and working in an international environment reminds me every day what a very small world it is. All human beings have the same needs, desires and hopes. Children everywhere deserve to be educated."