Swiss International Scientific School head sees a class act take shape

Setting up a new multilingual school in Dubai Healthcare City requires regular site visits and excellent time management and delegation skills for the head Beat Sommer.

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Beat Sommer is the head of Swiss International Scientific School, due to open this September in Dubai Healthcare City. The Swiss national, 57, has 30 years of experience in education, most recently as head of the Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz – a prestigious Swiss boarding school in St Moritz. Mr Sommer, who speaks five languages including Portuguese and German, lives with his wife in Jumeirah Beach Residences. He has two children, a son, 20 and daughter, 19, that study in Switzerland.


I’m not an early riser by nature, but I try to wake around 7am. I have breakfast, usually fruit, a cup of tea and sometimes a bit of cereal. I’m not a big breakfast eater, although my wife tries to ensure I have something before I leave. I take a quick look at the Swiss news online and then walk to work. To reduce any commute, we’ve always tried to live close to where I work. Right now, my pre-opening office is in the Dubai Marina, so it’s a 10-minute walk.


At the office, the first thing I do is check my emails. I communicate with lots of people back in Europe, particularly prospective teachers for the school; because they’re three to four hours behind us, I catch up while they’re still sleeping.


I sit with the team. It’s something I do regularly, but we also have a weekly management meeting on Sundays so that we can set an agenda and discuss the important points of the week ahead.


My personal assistant along with HR set up my schedule for interviewing prospective teachers. Hiring teachers is taking up a lot of time right now so I’m doing Skype interviews with candidates in countries like England, Canada, Switzerland, Germany and France. We’re looking for multilingual teachers to teach in their mother tongue but also communicate and write in other languages.


I take a 20-minute break for lunch. There’s a little cafeteria in our office building that I go to, but if I have more time I walk to JBR The Walk; it has a great selection of restaurants. It’s nice to take a break from the office and get out for a bit. During lunch I get ahead with my emails again.


I meet various suppliers. We have to put the whole school together from scratch, so we are procuring everything from books to teaching resources and furniture. Everything must be completed in time for the opening. That includes recruitment, the preparation of infrastructure, making sure that construction is going smoothly and ordering all the materials we need. Aligning all this to guarantee it’s delivered on time is an enormous task, but time management and delegation skills come in handy.


I visit the school site on a weekly basis. While I’m there, I meet the project manager. I cannot intervene but I like to stay fully informed, so we quickly go through the plans and see what’s been done during the week. Sometimes I take visitors or staff to the site to see how it’s progressing.


We’re enrolling students now and the school has been well received by parents so far, as the multilingual aspect is unique to Dubai. English will be the school’s primary language, but our students will also speak, read and write in French, German or Arabic. I like taking time to meet new parents and answer their questions. I also do “meet the head of school” events. At the moment I’m at my desk more than I’m used to. I’m looking forward to the school opening to get back to walking around the building, overseeing daily operations and talking to students and teachers. I cannot complain about my desk though. I have an excellent view of the sea, so whenever I want to air my head a bit, I just turn and look outside.


I go home for supper or we sometimes head out if we’re not too tired. We like to grab a quick bite to eat on The Walk or Downtown and Souq Madinat. One of our favourite restaurants is Jamie Oliver’s Italian. During the weekend, we make the most of the beaches, such as Kite Beach, and also enjoy taking our bikes out in the mornings.


I catch up with the news again. I like to read, however some days I'm just too drained. I also like watching TV once in a while – I enjoy Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones. I used to go to sleep after midnight, but I've changed that habit to now be in bed by 11-11.30pm, and asleep by midnight.