Review of American School in Ulaanbaatar on internet

I recently came across this review of American School of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia posted at website called the International School Review. Reviews are mixed:some praises the school and the people run it and some are critical. I know this school is one of most expensive private schools where children of powerful Mongolian families and elites go.I heard tuition is like $ 6000 US. It is huge sum considering GDP per capita in Mongolia is less than $ 2000 US. I'm just posting all the review, so you can make your own opinion about the school.

By Ganbat, Editor of MonInfo News Service

School name: American School of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Director's name:Kristina Nefstead
Dates covered: 2008-2009
Evaluation 1). 2008 - 2009 Kristina Nefstead
Academic integrity of school 5
Effectiveness of administration 4
Academic and disciplinary support provided 4
Director's involvement in academics 4
Fair and equitable treatment by board and director 1
School has adequate educational materials on hand 3
Attitude of local community towards foreigners 1
Cost of living in relation to salary (10= most favorable) 7
Satisfaction with housing 5
Community offers a variety of activities 2
Availability and quality of local health care 2
Assistance with visas, shipping and air travel 3
Extra curricular load is reasonable 2
Security / personal safety (10 = very safe in and out of school)2


Comments: I am writing this review because I think it is high time this school got on ISR and problems teachers have repeatedly faced since the first year are highlighted so potential teachers get an idea of what to expect when they sign up to work here.
Firstly, the school is owned and managed by a Mongolian Director of the political class, her husband is a Member of Parliament and they are into real estate and banking businesses in Mongolia, so profit is the primary motive of the administration. The Director sets a strange atmosphere in the school, foreign teachers are asked to spend a week making book lists and then the books are not ordered because it would cost the administration (how do you run a school without books ???) The English department for example has absolutely no books (if they have appeared this year that would be a start but if you are recruited to be part of the English department do not count on having too many books). The students do not have a lot of exposure to English, this will be a serious handicap when you start teaching for the only place they do get to read, write or speak English is at school and the resources for that are non-existent.
The students are very polite and respectful but belong to the ruling elite of Mongolia and not very hard working with a tendency to cheat in exams.

The administration is known for fining teachers for strange offenses like parking cars in the wrong place etc. No one tells you the right place to park your car but if they do find your car in a place they do not want to find it, they ask you to pay ten dollars. Makes you feel really appreciated for going there all the way to teach at temperatures of -30 to -50 C. Yep, that’s right…those are the winter temperatures. The weather in Ulaanbaatar is kind of strange-winter, it is cold of course but snow in June is not unknown; the weather could be sunny one day and freezing the next. The heating arrangements are quite good although the school is a tad slow in dealing with heating and infrastructure problems; they sometimes decide to repair apartments at 10pm in the night so if you have workmen banging away at the apartment above when you want to sleep don’t be surprised, it’s just the Mongolian time to repair apartments!

The school does have an American Principal, the third or fourth one in as many years; she joined ASU as a couple last year with her husband as the Vice Principal who has now been demoted to part time teacher because of a drunken brawl with fellow teachers due to an incident caused by the daughter, the third Nefstead to be brought in. The Nefsteads have lasted two years at the school which is a record for a Principal in this school. The current group of teachers gets along with the Principal but there have been teachers who did not find her supportive when they made unreasonable demands for things like books!

There is supposed to be a power struggle between the Mongolian administration and the Nefsteads with the Director of Student Services, a Mongolian whose qualifications and background in education are not very clear, very suspicious of the foreign teachers and wanting to sit in on western qualified teachers’ classes to judge their work. She is known to have given bad references to American teachers with more than 30 years of experience because they objected to the lies told to them to cover up for inconveniences caused by the administrations’ penny pinching on things like hot water for the staff.

Overall this school does not have an atmosphere of a growing, vibrant and healthy academic institution. It’s a good place to work for a year if you don’t expect to grow as a teacher and do not mind slackness in academic standards. The kids are great and the country is worth living in for a year so if you go to teach here for adventure without taking your role as an educator seriously this is the right school for you.
Evaluation 2). 2008 - 2009 Kristina Nefstead
Academic integrity of school 4
Effectiveness of administration 2
Academic and disciplinary support provided 5
Director's involvement in academics 1
Fair and equitable treatment by board and director 2
School has adequate educational materials on hand 5
Attitude of local community towards foreigners 5
Cost of living in relation to salary (10= most favorable) 5
Satisfaction with housing 5
Community offers a variety of activities 2
Availability and quality of local health care 6
Assistance with visas, shipping and air travel 8
Extra curricular load is reasonable 5
Security / personal safety (10 = very safe in and out of school) 4


Comments: Working at this school was a rather stress-free experience. Class sizes are small, students are polite and pleasant to teach, parents are non confrontational, expectations are low, and while the principal demanded lesson plans, there was never any follow up and one got the distinct impression that quality was of little importance. Resources are limited, but this seems to be improving. After September, staff meetings were replaced with a barrage of daily group emails, generally forwards of advertisements for teaching materials, which were easily ignored and deleted. Despite the principal’s lack of involvement in the everyday life of the school, most teachers were self-motivated and had a Canadian teacher (rather than seasoned international teacher) work ethic.
Morale and collegiality were high at the beginning of the year and then steadily deteriorated after the secondary school principal, Christopher Nefstead (husband to the head of school), drunkenly assaulted two other teachers in the school’s dormitory-style apartments in January. Christopher was demoted to classroom teacher, the head of school, Kristina Nefstead, was for a time demoted to Principal, and the drama, rumours and hard feelings continued to escalate, ferment and divide, as can happen when a small staff works/lives/plays exclusively together.
The city of Ulaanbaatar has many bars and good restaurants. There are a couple adequate, though not particularly convenient, gyms. Public transport to/from the school’s remote location is frustrating, especially in the winter. It is not an exciting city, but you can create an eating/drinking based social life if you want. It is hard to do outdoor activities because of the weather and the difficulty of getting out of the city and into the countryside. The city is definitely not running/cycling friendly. It is a difficult life, and come June, one feels as though one has accomplished a great feat simply by surviving with (hopefully) one’s mental health (and liver) intact.

Evaluation 3). 2008 - 2009 Kristina Nefstead
Academic integrity of school 7
Effectiveness of administration 8
Academic and disciplinary support provided 7
Director's involvement in academics 10
Fair and equitable treatment by board and director 9
School has adequate educational materials on hand 7
Attitude of local community towards foreigners 6
Cost of living in relation to salary (10= most favorable) 9
Satisfaction with housing 8
Community offers a variety of activities 6
Availability and quality of local health care 4
Assistance with visas, shipping and air travel 8
Extra curricular load is reasonable 9
Security / personal safety (10 = very safe in and out of school) 6
Satisfaction with housing 8
Community offers a variety of activities 6
Availability and quality of local health care 4
Assistance with visas, shipping and air travel 8
Extra curricular load is reasonable 9
Security / personal safety (10 = very safe in and out of school) 6
Comments: I am a teacher who is currently working at the American School of Ulaanbaatar, in my second year. My initial contract was only for a year but I chose to sign on again for a second because I feel although this is a relatively new school, progress is being made that has been beneficial for both the students and teachers.
While the school may lack in some resources, such as books and various materials, these resources are growing and I have seen these improvements first hand. The current administration and the head of school, Kristina Nefstead, have been working very hard to help make materials accessible to teachers and students. I have found constant support from Mrs. Nefstead whenever I have needed it, both academically and personally. She has always remained professional and really cares about the students and staff.
Many teachers chose to return to ASU for a second year (after only signing a one year contract) and many of these teachers are very happy with the progress the school has made. Some of these teachers are even considering returning for a third year. After the 2008-2009 school year, there was more returning staff than ever before. A few of the teachers who have left the school did so of their own accord because of their own personal issues. These people had difficulty separating their professional lives from their personal, and are very biased about their time spent here in Mongolia.
If you are considering coming to teach at ASU, you should be aware that living in Ulaanbaatar is not as easy as other countries. The winters are cold and it can be difficult being a foreigner, but being willing to open up to new experiences will definitely help make your life easier. If you come here with an open mind and are willing to try new things then you will enjoy yourself. If you come here hoping to help a relatively new school continue to succeed, then you will be rewarded. The students are kind and while they do not represent the general demographic of Mongolia, it is students like these (children of influential people in the country) who are the next generation of leaders and by teaching them you will have a part in helping Mongolia to progress as a country.

If you expect your power to work all the time and for the water to always be hot, then stick to a western country for your teaching. This is a developing nation and things do not always go according to the norm, but that is what makes the people who work here so adaptable.
Teachers coming to Mongolia to teach at ASU need to keep an open mind but I would say that teaching here has been an excellent experience and I am very glad that I signed on for a second year! I have enjoyed helping to put together an International School and I believe my time here as been well spent.
Comments: I am a teacher who is currently working at the American School of Ulaanbaatar, in my second year. My initial contract was only for a year but I chose to sign on again for a second because I feel although this is a relatively new school, progress is being made that has been beneficial for both the students and teachers.
While the school may lack in some resources, such as books and various materials, these resources are growing and I have seen these improvements first hand. The current administration and the head of school, Kristina Nefstead, have been working very hard to help make materials accessible to teachers and students. I have found constant support from Mrs. Nefstead whenever I have needed it, both academically and personally. She has always remained professional and really cares about the students and staff.
Many teachers chose to return to ASU for a second year (after only signing a one year contract) and many of these teachers are very happy with the progress the school has made. Some of these teachers are even considering returning for a third year. After the 2008-2009 school year, there was more returning staff than ever before. A few of the teachers who have left the school did so of their own accord because of their own personal issues. These people had difficulty separating their professional lives from their personal, and are very biased about their time spent here in Mongolia.
If you are considering coming to teach at ASU, you should be aware that living in Ulaanbaatar is not as easy as other countries. The winters are cold and it can be difficult being a foreigner, but being willing to open up to new experiences will definitely help make your life easier. If you come here with an open mind and are willing to try new things then you will enjoy yourself. If you come here hoping to help a relatively new school continue to succeed, then you will be rewarded. The students are kind and while they do not represent the general demographic of Mongolia, it is students like these (children of influential people in the country) who are the next generation of leaders and by teaching them you will have a part in helping Mongolia to progress as a country.

If you expect your power to work all the time and for the water to always be hot, then stick to a western country for your teaching. This is a developing nation and things do not always go according to the norm, but that is what makes the people who work here so adaptable.
Teachers coming to Mongolia to teach at ASU need to keep an open mind but I would say that teaching here has been an excellent experience and I am very glad that I signed on for a second year! I have enjoyed helping to put together an International School and I believe my time here as been well spent.

Evaluation 4). 2009 Kristina Nefstead
Academic integrity of school 9
Effectiveness of administration 9
Academic and disciplinary support provided 10
Director's involvement in academics 10
Fair and equitable treatment by board and director 10
School has adequate educational materials on hand 9
Attitude of local community towards foreigners 9
Cost of living in relation to salary (10= most favorable) 9
Satisfaction with housing 9
Community offers a variety of activities 7
Availability and quality of local health care 4
Assistance with visas, shipping and air travel 10
Extra curricular load is reasonable 10
Security / personal safety (10 = very safe in and out of school) 10

Comments: I wouldn't normally post on here but the personal attacks contained in the first two reviews bother me. The use of dramatic and emotive language says a lot about the writers (who as the 3rd review points out have their own agenda) but also troubles me that it is in a public forum. I've found the Principal and her husband to be nothing less than supportive and professional. Both provide a great deal of help and support for staff and both are incredibly professional. I think it was unnecessary and inappropriate to comment on what they do or don't do out of school hours. It does however highlight the petty dramas that can occur when staff all live in one building as is the case at ASU. The housing provided is more than adequate. Apartments come fully furnished (hard and soft furnishings) and internet access and a basic cable package are included.
As for the claim that the school is poorly resourced, the school is only in its 4th year of operation and it takes time to stock a school with resources. This is true in any school. The school has enough reources and is gradully gaining more resources.
As for life in Mongolia - there's no one stop supermarket but most foods can be found it you look hard enough. Food is reasonably priced, public transport is cheap as are taxi's. There's a lot to recommend Mongolia and ASU.

Evaluation 5). 2009 Kristina Nefstead
Academic integrity of school 9
Effectiveness of administration 9
Academic and disciplinary support provided 9
Director's involvement in academics 10
Fair and equitable treatment by board and director 10
School has adequate educational materials on hand 9
Attitude of local community towards foreigners 10
Cost of living in relation to salary (10= most favorable) 10
Satisfaction with housing 9
Community offers a variety of activities 8
Availability and quality of local health care 3
Assistance with visas, shipping and air travel 10
Extra curricular load is reasonable 10
Security / personal safety (10 = very safe in and out of school) 9

Comments: The first two reviews posted here are clearly by former staff with their own agenda. Their information is out of date and incorrect when it comes to this school year. The fact that inflammatory and emotive language has been used says more about the reviewers than the incident itself. However it does highlight that the school supplied housing is all in one apartment block which is located behind the school building, which has the potential to be an issue for staff who are unable to keep work life and home life separate. The apartments provided are a reasonable size and internet and a basic cable package are provided.
ASU has an excellent head of school who is approachable and liked and respected by her staff. Her husband is equally liked and respected by most staff. Both of them provided an excellent level of support for the staff that were new to the school this year.
ASU is adequately resourced, there is certainly enough resources to operate a classroom with. The school is only in its 4th year of operation, it takes time to build up resources for a school.
Life is interesting in Ulaanbaatar. The locals don't speak a lot of English but most places have someone who speaks some English so its easy enough to order food in restaurants, get help at the pharmacy, buy groceries etc and Mongolians who speak some english are always very helpful. There is no one stop supermarket but meat and vegetables are easy to get and reasonably priced. American food is also very easy to find. Taxi's are cheap and so are the buses.

DIRECTOR REPORT CARD: Kristina Nefstead
Reporting Period: 2008-2009
School / Country: American School of Ulaanbaatar reviews
Additional Comments, most outstanding characteristic of this director, etc.
ASU is Kristina's first principalship. The impression I formed of her was that she was a good person, but not a great principal. She had quite a fan following with a crowd of young, first-year teachers. She is great to work with if she takes a liking to you. She will not take a liking to you if you show a tendency to question things and rock the boat. She has her own issues with the Mongolian administration - business people with absolutely zero credentials in education who expect to call the shots because it is their money although they do need a western principal to bring in the money.
With her own, and husband's, position fluctuating from day-to-day she did not want teachers who questioned and made trouble with the Mongolian administration. She understands teachers problems with the Mongolian administration very well, just dislikes having to make a stand on things and rocking the fragile boat that is ASU.

She also adds to teacher's workload with excessive demands for reports when time is better spent on more basic things like finding resources to teach. Her working style is best described in the words of my colleague "my way or the highway". Not really a great kind of boss to have!
Other than surviving in a job that has been beyond the skills of previous principals she has not contributed much to the growth of the school. She plays favourites. She brought in her daughter to teach 5th grade math.

The most disturbing part of working for Kristina is the back talk one hears from other teachers - she seemed to have a habit of discussing teachers with other teachers or her daughter, so you got to hear if Kris thought you were a good teacher or not from the coterie and the daughter, never from her which can be quite distressing.

I agree with the other reviews of the school on ISR. This school is not the greatest place to teach if you are serious about education. I would say the same for the Principal as well.

There is a Canadian consultant, Gary Diamond, somewhere in the picture who gives misleading information at the time of interview. The Nefsteads and Gary are not in complete agreement so you have a really divided house at the top which shows in the performance of the school. I would just wish anyone who has to work at this school or with this director some very good luck...they will need that by the truckload!

Additional Comments, most outstanding characteristic of this director, etc.
I am currently working as a teacher at the American School of Ulaanbaatar and with the head of school, Kristina Nefstead. I am a returning teacher who has seen tremendous progress since the start of my contract last year, which I attribute to the efforts of Kristina Nefstead.
In my opinion, she faced many difficulties during her first year as head of school. Through it all she has remained strong and professional. All areas of school life have improved since she began her post. Curriculum, assessment, resources, policies, scheduling, organization, have all improved. My job is made easier and more enjoyable due to her ideas and policies. If there are any concerns of the staff, she will listen and be proactive. I feel that she is approachable and always has time to hear my concerns, opinions and questions. This year, especially, she has worked hard to provide what I need for my lessons. She is patient, respectful and intuitive. She gauges the needs of her teachers and works to help them the best way possible. She provides good advice and suggestions due to her many years of experience in the international teaching community. She also trusts her teachers. She knows when to push for excellence and when to allow space to teach effectively.
Since returning for a second year I have seen the impact that her policies have had on the students. They are happier than ever to come to school and show excitement for the ideas and activities that Kristina Nefstead presents. The secondary students have been given opportunities to travel abroad on school trips. Kristina Nefstead always considers their ideas for trips and events. She shows respect and patience for all her students.
Kristina Nefstead is not only professional but she is also a person of high integrity and moral character. I believe that she goes beyond what is expected of someone in her position. She is thorough in her work and strives to be better, always. In times when staff may struggle with personal issues, she is there to lend support.


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3 comments:

  1. The main value of blogs is to post your own experience or point of view. Anybody can do internet searches.

    ReplyDelete
  2. anyone have any updated comments?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Have nothing but the highest regard for the staff and Principal Ms Gurgit Gill. It is an excellent school and my three kids love it there. I wouldn’t send my children to any other school in UB. The ISU has some major problems (like a D rating for its senior years) and I don’t really know about the Elite School. There is an English boarding school opening up soon for the growing # of expat students. All in all the ASU is the best school in Mongolia by far. It’s a pity there are no more spaces left for new kids.

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