Leadership Spotlight: Ben Ploeger

ISS Administrative Search was proud to lead the Director General search for The American School of Asunción (ASA) in Asunción, Paraguay. Congratulations to Dr. Ben Ploeger for accepting the position, beginning July 2022! He most recently was the Superintendent of Schools at Kaohsiung American School.

Ben holds an EdD and EdM in Educational Leadership from Columbia University; MA in Educational Leadership and MAT in Secondary Math Instruction from Xavier University of Louisiana; and a BS in Engineering – Mechanical Specialty from Colorado School of Mines.His career experiences include serving as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University Teachers College (2014-Current); Head of School and Principal at Eagle Ridge Academy, Brighton, Colorado; Academy Director (Vice-Principal) at Sarah T. Reed Senior High School, New Orleans; Math Teacher, Sarah T. Reed, New Orleans; and a Math/Science Teacher at Bwatnapni Junior Secondary School, Vanuatu.

In the feature below, learn about how Ben first switched fields to discover his passion for education, the foundations of his leadership vision, and what excites him about working at ASA.

What drew you to pursue the world of education? And what drew you into international education specifically?

As a young person I loved learning about everything, especially mechanical things – cars, planes, trains, anything that moved. By the time I went to college I thought that I wanted to be an engineer. It took about three months as a mechanical engineer, designing printer doors and economizing wiring harnesses for kiosks, to realize that this was not the world that I wanted to be part of. I quit my job and joined the US Peace Corps, where I taught math and science at a junior high school in the south Pacific.

It was there on a small island in Vanuatu that I learned that my passion for teaching and learning far exceeds my interest in mechanical systems. Against the backdrop of fishing out of a tree-trunk canoe, cooking my dinner over a fire, and chatting with villagers, I found my calling as an educator and a leader. After several wonderful years in Vanuatu, I returned to the USA to pursue graduate studies and a career in education. Years later I met a brilliant woman who I somehow convinced to become my wife. When she told me that she planned to live and work overseas – whether I wanted to come along or not – well, the rest is history.

Ben at a school sports day

Please tell us about your education philosophy and your leadership style. What can your new community expect?

Excellent education begins with a sincere care for student well-being and growth. By academically preparing students, fostering confidence, and instilling a strong sense of ethics, we prepare them to make a notable impact. This begins with educating the whole child – guiding students’ academic and social-emotional development, nurturing their sense of self and identity, and fostering their curiosity and their interests. I believe a balanced approach is best, helping students develop in academics, arts, and athletics – in the true spirit of liberal arts education.

As a leader, I build community on a foundation of trust. I foster trust through open and transparent communication, facilitating thoughtful structures for dialogue within and among different stakeholders, clearly setting and reinforcing high standards, and supporting people in their learning and in their work. I communicate in a spirit of inquiry, seeking to understand and strengthen what bonds us and what motivates us to strive for excellence.

  The American School of Asunción

Congratulations on your new position at the ASA! What excites you about being in this new role and school? What are your hopes?

I believe that an exceptional education provided by a strong community is the greatest lever by which anyone can make a positive difference anywhere in the world, and ASA’s sense of community is so strong! When I visited ASA, I met students whose parents and grandparents were ASA alumni. The spirit of togetherness, with ASA as the uniting thread, was so evident that by the time my visit was over ASA already felt like home. I feel resolute excitement about ASA’s mission. Furthermore, I am privileged to follow the schools’ current Director General, Chris Russo. Together with the Board of Directors, he has led tremendous progress – the school is in great shape and is well-poised for an even brighter future.

I am thrilled to champion the school’s vision to become a leader in STEAM education – it’s a perfect match both personally and professionally. Ultimately, I hope to further empower ASA’s students to achieve their personal best.

What is an interesting fact or story about you that you would like to share?

Like many children, in my younger years I dreamed of becoming a pilot. Despite the ambition, global economics steered me away from aviation and into more ‘reasonable’ pursuits. I never let go of the dream, though, and started learning how to fly in 2019. Despite a hurricane derailing my plans in 2019 and a global pandemic further spoiling things in 2020, in 2021 I finally earned my pilot’s license.
You don’t need to worry about this school head sitting in the captain’s chair of your next flight. Though the USA FAA has somehow deemed me fit to fly a plane, flying has become a hobby and not a profession for me. That said, I did notice a lot of small planes hangered at the Asunción airport on my last visit to ASA, so perhaps you’ll see me in the South American sky very soon.

Ben and students in a science class

And finally, what was your experience with ISS Administrative Search like?

I am grateful for ISS’s support throughout my recent search experience. Dr. Beth Pfannl was exceptionally helpful. Her communication was clear, candid, and professional. Altogether, I feel like the result was a great fit for me and a great fit for the school I will join.

Thank you very much to Ben for sharing his story. He and his wife Torey Ploeger recently welcomed their daughter Zoe into the world; we wish them the very best as they look forward to settling in Paraguay as a family of three!

If you’re interested in pursuing a school leadership position, please check out our current leadership searches or get in touch with the ISS Administrative Search Team.

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