SABIS: From Lebanon, 1886 to Charter School Excellence of Today

George Saad’s passion to change the world through education arises from deep family roots.  His great grandfather, Tanios Saad, started the first school for girls in Lebanon in 1886 against all odds–to close the gender achievement gap.  From that extraordinary mission, SABIS Educational Systems was born. And George, a SABIS alum, is now Vice President of US Operations at the SABIS headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

Today, SABIS manages a highly-reputed global network of 75 schools, with schools in 15 countries on four continents, from the United Kingdom to the United Arab Emirates.  Closest to my heart, SABIS began its first charter public school in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1995, and has since grown its network to 11 charter public schools in the US and 10 charter-like international schools in the most unlikely of places–northern Iraq!  From Kurdistan to post-Katrina New Orleans, SABIS has gone where other educational providers have not–helping to rebuild lives shattered by war and natural disaster.  SABIS charter schools are recognized across the nation for academic achievement, resulting from customized SABIS curriculum coupled with academic quality control through computerized academic monitoring.

How ironic that it took me nearly twenty years to visit SABIS, headquartered just a few miles from my Minneapolis home!  Though SABIS does not operate a charter school in Minnesota, it does operate one of the highest quality private schools in the nation:  The International School of Minnesota, named #1 in Minnesota on the Washington Post’s List of America’s Most Challenging High Schools. The enrolled students and families represent 36 languages and 49 countries!  Director Christi A. Seiple-Cole gave me a tour of the Eden Prairie Campus where we visited with several students on their “pajama casual” day.  I loved what I saw. The school is innovative at all levels, from its comprehensive age 3 Preschool to Grade 12 campus, to its extended day and customized learning environment.

It was, however, the SABIS Student Life Organization that most impressed me — a system offered across their network. This is a student-led society that empowers students to contribute to the management of their school and play an active role in their education as well as the education of others. Students are offered real leadership opportunities, including the school’s
“Head Prefect” and deputy prefects of school departments like academics, discipline, management, and social responsibility.  What an opportunity for students to grow!

SABIS will open five new international charter public schools in Michigan and New Jersey in 2014-15. That begs the question: why not open a similar school in Minnesota?  Traditionally, our state has not been home to charter schools that retain for-profit management companies, like SABIS.  But given all that I learned last week, isn’t it time to launch that conversation here at home?