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Your Partner in Crafting World-Class Schools

Establishing an international school is a complex, expensive and time-consuming challenge that requires specialized expertise. For decades, we’ve helped owners, communities and other school sponsors establish and operate outstanding international schools around the world. As former Heads of School, ISS leaders have the resources and experience to help clients envision, establish and open schools on time and within budget.

Executing your Vision

No two ISS schools are alike. We work with you to refine the vision for your school,  and become the steward of that vision every step along the way. We assist you in developing the school that best meets the needs of your community and ensures a world-class education for every student.

Reputation for Quality

Since its inception, ISS has earned a worldwide reputation for professionalism and first-in-class service. As a registered non-profit organization, our sole interest is creating the finest schools in the world. Our clients have the security of knowing they are partnering with the recognized leader in international school development.

One Partner, Many Services

ISS handles every aspect of the school start-up process, from crafting the vision to the exciting day the doors first open. Campus planning, securing accreditation, recruiting international faculty, generating payroll, ordering school supplies, training board members and developing professional faculty are all in a day’s work for ISS.

Benefits of Working with ISS to Establish your School

Details are Our Specialty

Starting a new school can be overwhelming, with daily decisions that require specialized expertise. We manage the details for you so you can focus on the big picture.

Unrivaled Expertise

Engaging with ISS allows clients to utilize our 60 years of prior experience and specialized knowledge in school development. We know the common pitfalls and solutions that accompany new school development projects.

A Partner in the Process

Based on the initial input, and in regular meetings during the school development process, we coordinate with you to accelerate your school from vision to reality. ISS involves clients in key decisions, excels at clear and professional communications, and avoids surprises.

Custom Solutions for Your School

Our clients feel secure knowing that ISS works tirelessly to create the best possible school with the resources and time available, tailored specifically to their needs. Every client is different, and every school requires a custom approach.

The ISS Path to Opening a Successful School

Step One: Vision Consensus and Feasibility


We work hard to fully articulate your aspirations and goals for the school and provide our expertise on the viability of the project. Typically, this is done with a visit by ISS personnel to the project site for a series of meetings with client stakeholders. This foundational work provides the blueprint that will inform the ongoing development of the school.

During every Vision Consensus & Feasibility process we:

  • Define the needs and aspirations of the school, community and stakeholders
  • Define proposed school demographics (nationalities of students and teachers, tuition thresholds, maximum school capacity, expected initial enrollment, etc.)
  • Define under what conditions the proposed school will be successful
  • Define standards of quality (teacher-student ratios, classroom areas, specialist facilities, etc.)
  • Evaluate local regulatory environment and marketplace competition
  • Review facility options and logistical challenges
  • Create financial models and budgets

Step Two: Start-up Implementation:

Depending on size and scope of the project, and the point at which ISS becomes involved, the start-up implementation process may take between 1-2 years.

Typically, a founding Head of School is recruited and mobilized on-site 12 months prior to opening day. The founding Head of School will work with an ISS appointed Chief Project Officer, the ISS home and regional office staff, and special consultants as needed to initiate, coordinate and complete all the required steps to ensure a successful school opening.

During every start-up implementation process we do the following, and more:

  • Monitor timelines and budget
  • Collaborate with architects and contractors
  • Develop curriculum and associated educational artifacts
  • Recruit faculty and staff
  • Prepare handbooks, policies and procedures
  • Develop and implement a school marketing plan
  • Establish and implement admissions policies and procedures
  • Procure school supplies and equipment
  • Establish a governance structure


While it depends on the nature of the services you need, it is always best to involve ISS as early in the school development process as possible. Ideally, ISS would like to partner with the client at the vision phase of the discussion well before the client commits extensive resources to school development.

Many architects do not have experience in campus planning or school design. School design is a highly specialized service. We can work with either a local architect familiar to the client or we can arrange campus planning/architectural services for the client with a firm with a reputation in school design on your behalf. Either way, it is important that ISS staff give feedback to every stage of the design to ensure that the school design will support the programs and teaching methodologies desired by the client. Our experience is that many quality architectural firms are not familiar enough with schools to make these determinations.

Typically, ISS begins its services with a site visit. One of the goals of the site visit is to determine feasibility including an assessment of “un-met” demand in the local market. This involves visiting other local schools, meeting with parents of potential students, visiting local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce, embassies, and local educational jurisdictions. The primary outcome of the site visit is what we call “vision consensus” or an agreement about expectations for the project and a clear understanding of the project’s feasibility.

This very much depends on several variables. For instance, what are the school’s requirements for wellness, fitness, and physical education? Are there security considerations that require deeper set-backs? Is the site irregular in shape or does it have difficult terrain for building? Is the school located in a rural, suburban, or urban area? These variables impact the the property requirements for any given school. As a general rule, the campus area should be equal to or greater than four times the area of the building footprint.

The size of the school is limited by the capacity of the school buildings, which in turn, are limited by the size of the site. But, there is a larger question of “how big is too big” for a school educationally. There is no universal agreement about the numerical limits of small and large schools; however, research indicates that an effective size for an elementary school is in the range of 300-400 students and that 400-800 students is appropriate for a secondary school.

This research would consider these figures to be the upper limits. Our own experience indicates that most international schools fit within these ranges of enrollment. If larger enrollments are necessary, ISS can provide advice on how to develop a ”school within a school” educational program creating the more personal campus environment for students in a larger enrollment campus.

Normally, for a K-12 school we would project a two-year construction period following the acquisition of the property, the school design, and the necessary building permits. This construction period could increase if the school enrollment exceeds 1,500 students or if there are difficult building conditions.

There is no one best curriculum. ISS has experience in American, International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge (IGCSE) curriculum. Our primary experience is with American and IB curriculum. Our experience is to adapt curriculum to the culture of the host country and the school community. We don’t believe in a “one size fits all” approach.

We are happy to assist in the school’s accreditation. Indeed, ISS believes accreditation is an essential process for school startup. We have strong relationships with most of accrediting agencies. All ISS senior staff have all been involved in the accreditation process and many have served on accrediting teams. The accrediting agencies know that our managed schools will benefit from our extensive school improvement experience. They know we follow best practices and ethical standards, and that we possess the quality assurance tools to implement the steps to accreditation.

We are proudly non-profit, but we often work with clients who intend the school to be for-profit. We believe a quality educational program is the guarantee of profitability for our clients and success in our mission.

ISS has invested equity in school development projects in the past. However, this is not our preferred role in school development and does not directly align with our mission. Rather, we prefer to partner with clients who have already secured the necessary financial assets for the development and the property secured to build.

Our business practice is shaped largely by our mission. We are dedicated to transforming education around the world and we are a non-profit. Having said that, we use proceeds from our enterprise activities, including school startup and management, to fund our initiatives in world languages, teacher training, and educational creativity. Besides school startup and management, our other core enterprises include education staffing, school supply, foundations, and curriculum and professional development. We leverage these in-house enterprises to provide our school startup and management clients full comprehensive support. Another key approach to our business model is our set of quality assurance tools leading to successful accreditation and institutional maturity.


“Our company contracted with International Schools Services to develop a pre-K - grade 12 school in Bahrain.  ISS listened carefully to the aspirations we had for our school and then worked methodically to deliver the school we envisioned.  They handled every aspect of the start-up process, keeping us informed when key decisions were required and coordinating all of the various stakeholders involved in the process including architects, contractors, ministry officials etc.  ISS had the expertise and prior experience we were looking for to deal with the significant complexities of opening a world-class international school. They took the headaches of starting a new school away and ultimately we ended up with a truly outstanding school.  ISS continues to be a great partner in the ongoing development of our school.”

– Atif Abdulmalik, CEO & Chairman of the Executive Committee, Arcapita Bank, Manama, Bahrain

“In 2011, our company Guangdong ULink Education Services, Ltd. partnered with ISS to develop a secondary boarding school in Nansha, China designed to prepare Chinese national students for entrance to quality universities in the North America.  While the campus had existing buildings, we needed an American style program to successfully prepare students.  ISS worked with us to develop every aspect of school operation.  They procured the needed supplies, hired the founding head of school and faculty and developed the policies, procedures and handbooks.  In short, they provided the complete organizational infrastructure for our new grade 6 – 12 boarding school.  ISS also worked with leading world experts to devise a unique curriculum and methodology for our non-native English learning and complete training programs for our teachers. The results have been fantastic. We have been extremely pleased with our partnership with ISS and our students are now accepting entrance to top quality universities.”

– Mr. Quang Qiu, President/Chair, Guangdong ULink Education Services, Ltd., Chair, ISS-ULink Education Services, Ltd.

Getting Started

Looking for help? Send us an email.

  • 1 Fill out the contact form
  • 2 Be contacted within 1-2 business days by an ISS representative
  • 3 Arrange a one-on-one consultation to discuss the high level needs and vision for your school
  • 4 Contract with ISS for School Start-Up Support
  • 5 Commence Step One – Vision Consensus and Feasibility.








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Meet the School Management Team

Kurt Nordness

Senior Leadership Executive

Kurt received his doctorate in educational policy and administration from the University of Minnesota, his M.Ed. in educational psychology from the University of Oklahoma, and his B.S. in teaching from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. He has worked at both U.S. and international schools and most recently has served as the head of school at two international schools in China and Bahrain. He has taught graduate courses in teaching and learning. As the co-director of a U.S. Department of Education research study, he examined inclusive educational practices in schools. He also served on the Board of Trustees of the Association of China and Mongolia International Schools. Kurt currently lives in Minnesota and enjoys time with family including travel with his wife Ann.

Dick Moore

Vice President, School Start-Up and Management

Dick worked for seventeen years in overseas school administration before coming to ISS. His career took him to Singapore, Pakistan, South Africa, India, and most recently, Southern China as Director of Nansha College Preparatory Academy, a joint venture school of ISS and ULink College. Dick joined ISS in August 2016 and now builds sustainable schools from the ground up, working from conception to opening day. Dick received his Bachelors from Washington State University and his doctorate from Seattle Pacific University.

Beth Pfannl

Vice President, Administrative Searches

Beth joins ISS with 30 years of experience in international education. Based in Rome, she was most recently head of the American Overseas School of Rome for the past ten years, and has also been president of AAIE and the Rome International Schools Association (RISA). Beth currently serves as a trustee of The American University of Rome. She earned her doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris, her BA from McGill University and holds a CAGS in School Administration from Rhode Island College. Fluent in Spanish, Italian and French, Beth brings a very strong international perspective to ISS. In addition to leading administrative searches, Beth runs the annual Mary Anne Haas Women’s Leadership Symposium.

David Randall

Senior Leadership Executive, Governed Schools/Administrative Searches

David has served in overseas schools as a teacher, principal, finance director and head of school. He has worked across 11 schools in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, South America, Africa, and the Middle East, serving the last three of these as interim head of school. David earned his B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an M. Ed. and M.P.A. from the University of North Carolina.

Keith Cincotta

Director of School Services/Senior Leadership Executive, Managed Schools

Keith serves the purchasing, consolidation and shipping needs of over 100 international schools. Keith is the Senior Leadership Executive for two ISS-managed schools in Africa, serves as an ISS student services and school counseling consultant and has also authored feasibility studies for school start-up projects in Cape Verde and Ghana. Before working with ISS, Keith was a High School Principal and Secondary School Counselor/College Advisor for 15 years in Pennsylvania, Pakistan and Dubai. Keith graduated from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and has advanced degrees in Counseling and Educational Leadership from Lehigh University.

Bruce McWilliams

Senior Leadership Executive

Bruce has a proven track record developing and opening new schools and has been an overseas teacher, principal and school head for 31 years. He has 22 years of experience in the Middle East, having founded Riffa Views International School in Bahrain, overseen the development The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, and the Vision International School in Qatar. He is the co-author of the ISS Handbook for Establishing New Overseas Schools and recipient of the European Council of International Schools’ Promotion of International Education award. Bruce has a master’s degree from The College of New Jersey.

Paul Johnson

Senior Leadership Executive

Paul Johnson has served as Senior Leadership Executive overseeing ISS school start-up or re-opening in four different countries. His extensive experience includes 42 years in education – 37 of those working internationally. Paul has taught in three countries, and served in school leadership/administrative positions in eight countries. He has his Doctorate in Educational Administration and a Head of School Certification, his Masters in International Human Services Administration and Principal Certification, and a Bachelors in Education and Teaching Certification. Paul also brings significant accreditation experience to ISS, having conducted accreditation visits for MSA and CIS at seven schools, and accreditation self-study for WASC and MSA for four schools. He has also conducted board training for ISS in several countries, helping boards and their school administrators improve their relationship and overall effectiveness.

Robert Stearns

Senior Leadership Executive

Graduating with an Honours B.Sc. in Biology, Robert began his career as an agricultural researcher studying animal diseases. His drive to share his passion for science and discovery ultimately led him from the laboratory to the classroom. After earning his B.Ed. at Queen’s University in Ontario, he taught high school biology and chemistry in that province for 25 years. Moving to international schools in 2000, Robert became involved with school administration, major school renovation, and construction projects. Now, with over 40 years teaching, leading and building schools in Ontario, Europe and Asia, Robert is thrilled to be able to offer his assistance as a Senior Leadership Executive with ISS schools in China. Robert shares his life with Yvonne, an impassioned, dedicated early childhood educator in Canada, Germany and Hong Kong. Both enjoy working on the eco-sustainable home they built for themselves in a small Ontario town and spending their free time biking and canoeing in the Canadian countryside.

Stephen Plisinski

Senior Leadership Executive

Stephen Plisinski is a seasoned international professional with over 40 years of experience as a teacher, principal and head of school in nine countries on four continents. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education, a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Master of Business Administration Degree. Steve was recognized as Coach of the Year by the Grand Bahama Amateur Basketball Association, received Recognition for Service to the Community by the Addis Ababa City Administration, and was cited by the Bahamian Ministry of Education for Outstanding Teaching.  Steve’s wife, Susan, also an international educator, taught at every grade level from PK through 12th.

Lory Thiessen

Senior Leadership Executive

Based in Thailand, Lory became Senior Leadership Executive, ISS Southeast Asia, in August 2017. Lory received her Master's degree in Education Administration from the University of Hawaii, and her B.Ed. and B.A. from the University of Saskatchewan. Lory taught in Canada for 10 years, with 5 of those year in administration. She has been an administrator for all of her 26 years in International Schools in seven different countries. Most recently, Lory served as Director of Schools in Sumatra, Indonesia and Atyrau, Kazakhstan.

News & Resources

School Sustainability: From Activism To Curriculum

By Kevin Sullivan and Dick Moore

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Securing the Best Local Consulting Support

Learn more about conducting a feasibility study and securing local consulting support

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Starting a School: Key Questions to Ask

By Dick Moore, ISS Vice President School Start-Up and Management

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Article from P21

Transforming Classrooms and Schools for 21st Century Learners by Design

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Green School Design

Check out this great article from the Center for Ecoliteracy!

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School Design Standards

Learn more about building schools and infrastructure.

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Check out all of our events and conferences | 2018/19 conference dates: Atlanta, GA, USA (December 9-11, 2018)  •   Bangkok, Thailand (January 4-7, 2019)  •   San Francisco, CA, USA (February 7-10, 2019) |