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November 2001

Heart Transplant

A new BIS principal brings his passion to Munich

Ask Chris Bowman whether he has any children. “Yes. 600!,” he’ll cheerfully reply. This genial, outgoing Australian is the new Director of the Bavarian International School (BIS). When he took the reins this July, it was the fulfillment of a long-held dream.

Bowman and his wife, Sharon, have always been drawn to this part of the world. After visiting Germany for the first time, in 1979, the language and culture of the country became a growing interest for them. Twelve years ago, Bowman was on a year-long exchange program in Germany when he happened to meet the director of the Hamburg International School. Bowman remembers going home to his wife and wondering aloud, “How could a teacher from rural South Australia get to be the principal of an international school in Germany?” Bowman applied his characteristic focus and energy to the question, and, by 1994, had set off to become the principal of an international school in Papua New Guinea. A posting to Denmark followed, opening the way to Europe and the coveted prize.

The BIS was established about ten years ago to serve the families of the many business people whose offices moved to northern Munich—inconveniently far from the Munich International School in Starnberg. The new school grew rapidly, from just a handful of students at its founding to 600 students from 41 different countries, and more than 60 teachers.

Three years ago, the school moved into Schloss Haimhausen, in the countryside north of Munich. “The villa is a beautiful symbol of Bavarian heritage,” says Bowman, whose office overlooks the green fields and trees that surround the school. The central building has been enhanced with custom-designed facilities to meet the needs of a modern educational institution. Other buildings are planned, including a performing arts center.

Although the majority of Bowman’s students are the children of expats, about one-quarter are German. They all come to BIS for the English-language environment, the high quality of instruction, and a broad, international education. The school’s curriculum is based on the International Baccalaureate (IB), a program grounded in inquiry and research, which provides an internationally recognized and respected qualification.

When people weigh the pros and cons of working in a foreign country, the quality of their children’s education is often a deciding factor. Bowman sees his role as being to support and develop an outstanding learning organization that meets those needs. Working together with the school board and his senior management team, Bowman aims to foster an environment in which both pupils and staff improve constantly.

The school also provides a social structure for parents, who are given the opportunity to organize activities ranging from football games to book clubs. Bowman values this sense of community, and is keen to reach out to wider circles of expats in Munich. A current project, for example, is to forge contacts with businesses, to create work experience opportunities for his senior students.

Bowman’s professional activities also extend beyond BIS. He is on the board of the European Council of International Schools, an organization of 400 schools worldwide. This gives him a truly global perspective on educational trends. In summers, he works as a trainer in leadership and group dynamics at the Principal’s Training Centre, which holds courses in Miami and London.

When Bowman finds a spare moment, he enjoys playing guitar, mandolin and Irish whistle. Occasionally, he plays the pipe organ in the BIS chapel, “just to keep the dust out of the pipes.” Both Chris and Sharon Bowman love browsing antique markets, searching for candidates for Chris’ unusual hobby of furniture restoration. He welcomes the challenge the task presents, “It uses a different part of brain,” says Bowman, “and gives me different problems to solve.”

One thing Bowman no longer does these days is fly. As a district superintendent in South Australia, he used to charter planes to visit the most far-flung schools, which were up to 2,000 km away. Now his focus is much closer to home. He and his wife have settled in a small village outside Munich, to be part of a local community. Both are enamored of the area. “We have no desire to cover the planet,” he says, “The physical environment in Munich is beautiful, and the culture, size and pace of the city is perfect for us.”

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