CIHS principal embodies school's global concepts
Ameer Kim El-Mallawany is the son of a Korean mother and an Egyptian father.
He's from Cleveland.
At 29, the principal of Columbus International High School isn't all that removed, chronologically, from his students.
But, the Northwest Side resident said last week in an interview on the veranda of his school's new-home-to-be, the former North High at 100 Arcadia Ave. in Clintonville, the world in which his students are growing up already is a very different place from the one he knew as a private-school student in Cleveland's eastern suburbs.
Preparing young people for a world that will be vastly changed in only a dozen or so years is what Columbus International High School is all about.
Established in 2010, CIHS "aims to be a leader in international education in Ohio, in the United States, and worldwide," according to the school's page on the website of Columbus City Schools.
"Our teachers work hard to include an international focus and 21st-century skills in the curriculum of every class at CIHS. Students learn about and examine not just the science, math, English, history and world languages that we find in every high school across the country, but they also learn to apply subject knowledge to the questions and problems that we increasingly face as a global community."
Classes for the first 170 ninth-graders at Columbus International High School initially were held on the campus of Fort Hayes Career Center. Incoming freshmen, returning sophomores and the members of the staff moved last year to the former Clinton Middle School on Karl Road in the Northland area.
Come August, International High will move to its new permanent home.
The former North High School opened in 1924 and closed after the class of 1979 graduated.
The CIHS students, their families and the school's staff are pumped about the new location, El-Mallawany said, and all are looking forward to being involved with North High's very active alumni association.
"It's such a continuation because of the history of this community, the history of this school," he said.
"The district is saying how much they believe in us and our kids and our families," El Mallawany added. "It's not lost on the kids. The kids get it. They're very excited."
El-Mallawany didn't necessarily see education in his future when he was nearing the end of his own high school career.
"I was big in writing in high school," he said. "I had imagined myself as a professional writer of some sort."
To that end, he majored in linguistics when he was accepted to Yale University, but eventually graduated with a degree in film studies.
El Mallawany said he enjoyed his years at the prestigious Ivy League school in New Haven, Conn., where, as a Muslim, he found student groups to be involved in as well as organizations for students with Asian ancestry.
"For me, it was really a great way to exercise all of the curiosities and interests that I had outside of school," El-Mallawany said. "The emphasis is neither so oppressive that it's trying to smother everybody into one community nor so diverse that it's fostering many different communities."
Like most people who eventually go into education, El-Mallawany said a number of his own teachers were inspirations, especially one of his middle school teachers, Dave Steward, who taught an enrichment program for African American boys. El-Mallawany taught in the program for two summers while at Yale and also was involved in tutoring workshops and teaching programs in New Haven.
"I was pretty sure that I could step out into the universe and become a public school teacher," he said.
El-Mallawany earned a master's degree in education from Harvard in 2010 and started his teaching career on a Pueblo Indian reservation in New Mexico.
"What that experience really taught me was that this education this is so tied to community," he said. "For me to be an educator, I felt I had a need to be part of the community."
El-Mallawany also taught in the South and Central Bronx neighborhoods of New York City and did his internship as a principal in inner city Boston before being recruited to become the inaugural leader of Columbus International High School.
"This is where I plan to be," he said. "This is the perfect time in Columbus for this school and the Columbus is the perfect place for this idea."
The students, who come from every middle school in the district as well as several charter schools, represent more than 25 different nations and have more than 15 different home languages, according to El-Mallawany. The teaching staff represents 10 different countries and speaks 11 languages, he added.
But the curriculum is less geared toward young people with an international background and more focused on those interested in international studies, he said. Only 22 percent of the students were enrolled in English-as-a-second-language programs, and only 12 percent of that group haven't yet tested out, El-Mallawany said.
"Our parents and our kids come to us with a trust that I think we're honored to have as a school district and as a community -- to take care of their needs," El-Mallawany said. "They really see themselves as the pioneers, the kids who really built the school.
"They're the first at everything."