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Next Stop, Abu Dhabi

Jonathan Gyurko's new firm is shaping a nation's education system

Jonathan Gyurko’s new firm is shaping a nation’s education system

By Patricia Lamiell

If you want to know why the term “student” at Teachers College doesn’t necessarily equate with inexperience or junior status, look no further than doctoral candidate Jonathan Gyurko.

Gyurko has served as Director of Charter Schools for the New York City Department of Education and worked with the United Federation of Teachers to found the first union-supported charter schools in the United States—and he did all that before enrolling at TC.

Now Gyurko’s new education services and advisory firm, Leeds Global Partners, has formed a close partnership to dramatically improve public schools in the United Arab Emirates. As Gyurko recently explained by email from Abu Dhabi, Leeds Global is working to implement the Emirates’ “New School Model,” an effort that includes the adoption of world-class standards, a transition to student-centered classrooms and pedagogies, and the introduction of a bi-literate curriculum. To jump-start the effort, Abu Dhabi hired over 900 English-fluent teachers from the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere to team-teach with local, Arabic-fluent educators.

Abu Dhabi, the capital and second-largest city in the United Arab Emirates, has 125,000 students in more than 250 schools. Leeds Global, which Gyurko co-founded in early 2010 with CUNY chairman Benno Schmidt, former Edison Learning chief executive John Chubb and Jeffrey Leeds, President of Leeds Equity Advisors, is spearheading the professional development of the system’s school heads and lead teachers. Each month Leeds Global designs and delivers bilingual training to more than 700 educators. Their program assessment data indicate that the new approaches are quickly taking hold in schools.

With all of that, Gyurko still has a foot in New York. For his TC dissertation, he is conducting a large-scale study of the city’s district and charter school teachers to understand how teacher “voice and loyalty”—the amount and quality of interaction that teachers have with their colleagues and supervisors on professional issues—affect teacher turnover.

In the meantime, he is spending two to three weeks per month in Abu Dhabi, convinced that his work can help the city achieve its goal to be the economic and cultural standard-bearer in the Middle East: “Abu Dhabi is well on its way to becoming a world-class city. Central to their plan is a thriving system of education and research. It’s an honor to be part of this work.”

Published Friday, May. 20, 2011