We continue the Little Steps Talking Heads series, where parents can meet, greet, and get tips from Hong Kong’s Heads of Schools! Get personal with these fabulous personalities and find out what makes them tick, their advice for parents navigating the schooling scene, and their favorite things about life in the city.
In this edition, we say hello to John Jalsevac, School Director of American School Hong Kong.
1. Do you have a nickname? Well, yes I do. Many friends here in Hong Kong call me JJ. I’ve also played a lot of sports over the years and as is typical in athletic circles many participants are often given a nickname. For years the only name I was ever called was Jals. However, my wife and mother still call me John!
2. Where were you born and where did you grow up? I’m proud to say that I was born in Toronto, Canada. Many may not know this but Toronto is the 4th largest city in North America after Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles. Toronto is a very cosmopolitan city with fantastic neighborhoods, shops, restaurants, galleries and people. And, as is typical for most Canadian cities, Toronto enjoys 4 distinct seasons. I met my lovely wife Joanne in Toronto when we were in Grade 9 together. Prior to beginning my international education journey 12 years ago I was fortunate to work as a teacher, principal and superintendent of education in Toronto.
3. Where do you live in the city and why do you love it there? I live in the Fashion Walk area of Causeway Bay. I remember arriving in Hong Kong in 2004 and looking at 29 apartments in 3 days. It was exhausting! The one we eventually settled on was the last one we saw and it is the apartment we continue to live in to this day. It has become our home. I only wish we had bought the apartment, which the landlord offered to us at the time, rather than rent it but no use crying over spilt milk! We love all of the amenities in Causeway Bay. It is a vibrant part of the city and so easy to get around except on a Sunday when the pedestrian traffic can be a bit daunting.
4. What's in your lunchbox? I go back and forth between a hot lunch (pasta or chicken or beef are 3 favorites) and a sandwich or two. Today, I’ve got a cheddar cheese sandwich on sourdough bread and some sliced raw vegetables.
1. What or who inspired you to become a headmaster? I have always graciously accepted the gift of leadership bestowed upon me from the days of my youth when I became class and student council president, lead in school plays, and captain of most athletic teams I played on to the point where, after working as a PE teacher for only 7 years, I was successful with a first time application to work as a High School Principal. That was many years ago and since then I have been fortunate to take the helm at some very prestigious schools. Along the way, I have worked with many outstanding teachers and students and it is these people who continue to inspire me to serve as a school leader.
2. Describe your school in 5 words or less! I’ll do it in 8 words. Self-actualized, critical-thinking problem solvers will emerge!
1. What's your favorite thing on your desk and why? A picture of my wife Joanne, daughter Jessica and son David. At the end of the day, it is our family that mean the most to us and provide us with the sustenance we need to live a meaningful life.
2. What are your 3 favorite children's books? A Boy at the Leafs Camp - by Scott Young, Are You My Mother? - by P.D Eastman Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - by Judith Viorist.
1. What is the best way for parents to be involved in their children’s education? The trick is to know when to pull in the rope and when to let it out a bit. Children need to develop a sense of independence and must eventually assume ownership and responsibility for their education. Most parents get it right and know how to support and supervise their children. However, some limit a child’s growing independence by becoming too involved and overbearing. Balance is the key – and a lot of patience and love along the way.
2. Any tips for parents when applying for schools? Yes, come to us at ASHK! We welcome your children and will provide for them an exemplary program and a nurturing environment.
3. What's the best advice a teacher or headmistress ever gave you? Although not a teacher or headmaster, I think Kenny Rogers captured it best in his song The Gambler. He said, "you’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run." It’s really a lesson about life isn’t it? I came to Hong Kong 12 years ago thinking that I would stay for only 2 years and here I am 12 years later with no end in sight. I have learned that this city provides a safe, wonderful environment for families and that many of the schools in Hong Kong are enriching places to work and put down roots. I’m happy I did!