Richard Vanderpyl, Head of School

July 8, 2020

Richard Vanderpyl: I believe community is important because it reflects relationship. The stronger our relationships the stronger the community.

Richard Vanderpyl wears many hats. He is an experienced educator, the head of school at Christian Alliance International School (CAIS), a father of four and a member of some 3000 New Zealand’s diaspora who are making waves in Hong Kong.

Richard is on a mission to build community connection and spread the service learning vibe throughout CAIS. He is also leading the Christian school to fit in and stand out in the international school scene in Hong Kong.

Originally a transient visitor to Hong Kong, Richard was presented with the opportunity to lead CAIS which he accepted after a 17-year leadership role at a highly regarded Christian school in New Zealand.

From recruiting overseas students for his previous school at the island country, to connecting students in Hong Kong with an global perspective through the biblical lens at CAIS, Richard explains how his previous experience has prepared him for CAIS, thoughts on Christian education and leadership, his daily bridge building exercise with the 1500+ CAIS community, and his ways to explore scenic Hong Kong.

Could you tell us a little about your family?

My wife’s name is Linda and we have been married for 30 years. We are blessed with 4 children – 2 sons and 2 daughters. The eldest is Samuel who is an accountant, Lucie who is working in the mission field, Kate is a teacher and James who worked in hospitality for a season and is now at University.

How did you wind up in Hong Kong? Did you always want to live and work in Hong Kong?

I can remember sitting in my Head of School office in Middleton Grange School praising and thanking God for blessing me with a wonderful harmonious school. I said ‘Lord, I could retire in 10 years from this school and I would be a contented man’. I was really happy there. I also prayed that if the Lord did call me somewhere else, that I would be obedient to that calling.

Little did I know it would be to Hong Kong! I wasn’t looking to leave New Zealand at all, it was a calling God put on my heart which is why I have always had a deep sense of shalom (peace) about the move.

What was your first impression? What surprised you most?

Part of my role as Head of School in New Zealand was to recruit overseas students to study at Middleton Grange. Therefore, I would travel 2-3 times a year to Europe and Asia to meet students. I have travelled through Hong Kong into China many times, so I already knew what to expect. My wife and I both love Asia for its people, cuisine and beauty. However, what did surprise me the most was the summer heat! Wearing a suit and tie was hard work!!

Your first impression on CAIS?

This is a school that truly desires to live out their Christian testimony. The staff here are amazing, friendly and very welcoming.

What does your typical work day at CAIS look like?

There is no typical day! 🙂 It can be so different and often hard to plan for. There are many meetings, administration and strategic planning for the future. But generally I will try to get out of my office to meet students and teachers at least once a day.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work at CAIS?

Most rewarding: I love being at the school gate welcoming the students in the morning, saying hi to the parents. At the heart of what I find rewarding is when I hear students say they enjoy coming to school and learning at CAIS. I want CAIS to be a fun place and yet a rigorous place in terms of expectations and behaviour.

Other rewards that give me great satisfaction is when I see wonderful interactions between teachers and students, and of course quality teaching!

CAIS is big on community connection and service learning. Can you expand on these ideas further?

We were created in a special way and for a special purpose! We were created ‘Imago Dei’, in the image of God. Our God is a triune God (3 persons yet I) and therefore is a God of perfect relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Being created in his image means among many other things, that we were created for relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with each other. That is why I believe community is important because it reflects relationship. The stronger our relationships the stronger the community.

And that is where service is also important because to build relationships and community we need to serve each other with humility and love.

How has your prior leadership experience at a Christian school in New Zealand prepared you for the exciting journey that lies ahead at CAIS?

It is always interesting to look back over your life and see how God prepared you for what lies ahead. Not only does God prepare our works ahead of us, but he also prepares us for those works.

This year we have seen a lot of upheaval in Hong Kong and the impact that has had on schools. Back then in Christchurch, we suffered two major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. School were closed for a period of time. That year we also had the heaviest snowfall in Christchurch for 20 years, so school was closed yet again!

I guess in those ways, I have been prepared to deal with the issues that have arisen here.

Your thoughts on Christian Education?

I am 100% for Christian Education. I believe it is the ‘real ‘education. It is life giving, purposeful and exudes hope to our students. God has created us in His image and He has given us talents. Our challenge in Christian Education is how we shape that mind so that it is soft towards God. That does not mean that we downplay academics. On the contrary, we are to love the Lord with all of our minds. We want our students to have their minds renewed (Rom 12:1) and show them how to be the expression of Christ to their society.

Your thoughts on school leadership and culture?

I believe the essence of leadership is ‘servant leadership’. Leadership is about placing the needs of others above my own needs. It means leading from the front, leading from the side and leading from behind. Key elements in leadership are humility, clear communication, and visible leadership – at the heart of it all is character. Leadership is about influence. The leader’s heart, mind and will must be saturated by God’s Word so that the influence on staff and students is one of godliness and excellence.

A key role for the Head of School is to provide leadership and inspiration to pupils, staff and parents as to how we can achieve the Mission for Christian Alliance International School. I believe that my role plays a major part in establishing and sustaining the culture of a school. School culture evidences itself in many ways, whether it be the ‘attitude to learning’ in the classroom, cleanliness of the school buildings and grounds, behaviour of pupils when representing the school (sports, cultural), willingness to serve others, staff and pupil interactions, through to pupil intrinsic motivation. I see my role is to take every opportunity to promote high expectations and standards for all aspects of Christian schooling.

Your thoughts on spiritual leadership?

Prayer must be the natural breath of all within the school. My desire is that we will have regular times where we will open our meetings in prayer and read a passage from Scripture. In addition, I am actively involved with staff devotions, prayer meetings and chapel services. I also look forward to doing book study with faculty members. While I lean towards instructional leadership, there is also an important aspect of transformational leadership that is needed. Leadership starts with the heart.

What does CAIS mission statement mean?

“To cultivate learners with knowledge, skills, integrity and discernment, growing in love for God and service to humanity” It is our responsibility as Christian educators to nurture and encourage students in the fullness of who they are in Christ. The Mission Statement speaks of the head (knowledge, skills), the heart (integrity, discernment, love) and to the hands (service) of the student; it points to delivering a whole child education. This is the beauty of Christian education; it gives students purpose to their learning – to serve others. Christian education is not merely a cognitive exercise; it is also one of spiritual formation (Romans 8:29). Serving, motivated by love for God and humanity must be part of a school’s DNA.

What’s next for CAIS?

Two key areas for CAIS in the years ahead.

One is the exciting development of Phase 2 and the stunning facilities for students. I am really looking forward to that building opening!

The other key area to focus on is effective teaching and learning. We have across the school many excellent teachers, but I believe we are all life long learners. We will be focusing on what does best teaching practice look like in the classroom? How do we make sure we use effective practices not just ‘busy practices’.

My prayer for CAIS is that we will not only be known as the “Best school in Hong Kong” but that CAIS, by the Grace of God, would be primarily known as the “Best school for Hong Kong”

What was your favorite and least favorite subject in school back then?

Favorite subject: Accounting
Least favorite: Compulsory music. I do not have a musical bone in my body so for everyone’s benefit I stopped music when it became optional.

If you were not an educator, what would you be?

Some sort of mission/service work. That is still my plan when I “retire”. I don’t actually believe in retirement; the Lord has many more good works prepared for me to do. (Eph 2:10 again!)

Your go-to restaurants/ cafes in Hong Kong?

We love dim sum restaurants and I’m still looking for a good steak restaurant!! At the moment we are surviving on NZ fillets that I BBQ at home. We enjoy dining out which is why I am 6 kg heavier from when we left NZ!

What’s your favorite thing about living in Hong Kong?

I love it so much actually! I have walked the HK Trail, the MacLehose Trail, and halfway through the Wilson Trail. Then it is the Lantau Trail to complete Big 4! We love the food, we love the sights and skyscrapers! We love the busyness although we are looking forward to leading back to NZ for the scenery there and the less busy pace of life. The time in HK is an exciting season for us.

What do you miss most about New Zealand?

My four adult children, Samuel, Lucie, Kate and James! I miss some very close friends, and I do miss my weekly bike rides to keep fit!