Director’s speech: Celebrating 50 Years of ISD

Director’s speech: Celebrating 50 Years of ISD

ISD Founders’ Day Reception, 18 April 2018


Good evening ladies and gentlemen. It is a privilege to stand here as ISD’s 11th Director.

I’m delighted to welcome you all here on the very special occasion of ISD’s 50th anniversary.

50 years ago, a group of pioneers dreamt of an institution that would help launch their children’s future.

We are very fortunate to be joined tonight by one of those pioneers, Mrs Evelyn Zivetz, who played an instrumental part in the school’s formation, and who has travelled from San Diego to be here for our celebrations this week. Evelyn’s daughter and ISD alumnus, Carrie, has also travelled to Düsseldorf from the United States.

It is a privilege for our community to welcome you both here this week, as we celebrate this world-class institution, and as we pay tribute to the wonderful legacy of the Zivetz family.


On this day in 1968, a group of passionate and visionary parents, led by Hank and Evelyn Zivetz, gathered in the living room of the McNaughton family. It was during that meeting that their collective vision of an international school in Düsseldorf, with English as the main language of instruction, started to become a reality.

This evening we commemorate the 50th anniversary of that meeting.

We did think about recreating that scene from 50 years ago but could not find a private living room big enough! Instead we are here in the Dahms Theatre – a wonderful facility, and a setting that invites us to consider the significance of our history and the importance of ISD today.

The past 50 years has witnessed dramatic changes here in Europe and in the world. We have moved from an industrial era and a knowledge economy to an innovation era. ISD has also witnessed significant change as it has evolved to continue to meet the needs of students.

What hasn’t changed is the belief that our students will go into the world and will be successful; moreover, they should want that success not just for themselves, but for their communities and for the world. 

Over the past 50 years, the school has grown. It has diversified. It has adapted to meet the challenges of modernity.

At this morning’s assembly the students were given a glimpse into ISD’s past with the opening of our time capsules. From this collection of artefacts we were able to get an understanding of the extraordinary ways society has transformed, in what is a relatively short space of time.

But the very essence of our school’s values – the will, optimism and collaboration of those parents in the McNaughton’s living room – remains constant. These values are the lifeblood of the ISD spirit and the defining characteristics of our school’s vibrant international community.

Our 50th anniversary week is an opportunity to reflect on, and to celebrate both of these facets of our school’s identity: the stories of our past and the values that sustain us today.

In the first year of the American International School of Düsseldorf (as it was then known), there were just 32 students, a library consisting of some 50 books, two pianos, a couple of blackboards, and a classroom with two portable heaters.

And yet, somehow, despite limited resources, the founders still managed to organise fund-raising, acquire building sites, devise an annual calendar and write a bilingual school constitution.

By the following year, student numbers had tripled.

It took little more than a decade for AISD’s educational programme to develop a strong reputation for excellence among internationally mobile families.  In doing so, the school has supported economic growth in Düsseldorf by allowing companies to attract families from around the world, secure in the knowledge that their children will be supported to flourish.

Throughout its history, this school has consistently endeavoured to be at the forefront of best practice in education, giving its students the best opportunity to thrive at school and beyond.

In 1977, AISD became only the 65th school worldwide to implement the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.  For 40 years, ISD has grown with the IB, which is now offered in nearly 5000 schools to one million students. 

In 1986, the decision was made to change the school’s name to the more apt and more succinct “International School of Düsseldorf” to reflect the more diverse international community the school had become. Today, some 58 countries are represented among our student body.

This was a small change, but, symbolically at least, a very important one.

Indeed, our school has made many changes throughout its 50-year history to meet the demands of our fast-changing world and to enable students to grow into skilful, adaptable, and compassionate global citizens.  

In the past 50 years, international education has grown exponentially and there are now 9000 international schools, employing 470,000 teachers in a market that is worth 48 billion dollars annually.  In such a competitive market, it is telling that ISD is one of the most sought after schools in the world, to secure a teaching position. I can tell you that as I participate in educational forums around the world, the reputation of ISD today is second to none.

ISD is truly international and is considered one of the IB flagship schools.  It is a school that specialises in supporting families through their transitions.  From its world class outdoor learning programme to its English as an additional language, its superb college counselling, and extraordinary sports and community programmes, ISD is the school of choice in Düsseldorf for international families.  

Looking forward to the future, our challenge is to ensure that ISD continues to be a school that responds intelligently and effectively to our fast-changing environment.

We’re witnessing unprecedented change in technology and its capabilities – changes that are fundamentally altering the way we do business, the way we consume and distribute information, and even day-to-day social interactions.

The pace at which this is occurring is hard to fathom.

Of course, this presents a big challenge for us as educators.

We need to think creatively about how we can cultivate the right skills and mind-set that will prepare students for this brave new world.

We need to inspire them to become innovative problem-solvers and lifelong learners. 

We need to foster more personalised learning that will enable students to find their true passions and realise their talents.

As a community, we’ve worked together to lay the groundwork for an exciting phase in our school’s development that will promote innovation, flexible learning, and collaboration.

Things won’t change overnight, but it will be a process of evolution. We’ve already been able to witness the remarkable optimism and enthusiasm with which students and their families are embracing these new opportunities.


This week, as we fondly look back on days gone by, we honour our past and we can be very proud of the exceptional school ISD is today.

That sentiment, I’m pleased to say, is shared by the broader community.

We are shortly going to hear a recorded message from North-Rhine Westphalia’s Minister for Schools and Education, Yvonne Gebauer, who wished to express her support on the occasion of our 50th anniversary.

Before we hear the Minister’s message, I would like to conclude my own comments this evening by warmly thanking you all for your attendance, and for the contribution each of you has made to our school. We hope you enjoy the evening, and the rest of the week’s celebrations.