Chris Barnes 4

When Chris Barnes visited Franklin — all the way from Australia — to meet with our Head of School, William Campbell, he was actually reconnecting with his former colleague and fellow countryman. Mr. Barnes and Mr. Campbell had previously worked together at the Trinity Grammar School in Sydney. Walking through the Franklin doors, Mr. Barnes was thrilled by the vision of our new school, as well as the rich diversity of the Jersey City community. He is even more excited now to be joining us this fall as Franklin’s Academic Care and Capstone Project Director!

Mr. Barnes, who graduated from Sydney’s Macquarie University with a Diploma of Education in Psychology, History, English, and Drama, brings extensive experience to Franklin. He was the Director of the IB Diploma Program at Trinity Grammar for 15 years and is finishing his term as the Deputy Head of MLC Sydney’s Senior School, where he has served in this role for the last two years.

We sat down with Mr. Barnes to hear about his passion for education, academic care, and hopes for Franklin students. 

Please share a bit about your background.

I am the son of a teacher, and my brother is also a teacher, so you might say teaching is in my blood. It is my passion in life, which began in college when I majored in Child Psychology and Social Psychology. My passion for coaching began in college as well, as I became involved in high-level basketball, Australian football, and track and field. I have been working as a teacher for the past 23 years and my passion for education has only grown. 

My role as Director of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program in Sydney gave me a love of global mindedness as well as a drive to help my students develop the academic skills to make them life-long learners and leaders in their chosen fields. 

I have traveled extensively around the world, lived and worked in Peru and Argentina, and am excited to do the same in the U.S.

How has your career path led you to Franklin?

Ever since completing a student exchange program in Chicago, America has always been in my heart. I have visited 25 states and still have so much more that I want to see. It has always been a dream of mine to teach overseas, as well as to teach at a brand-new school built on the foundation of academic care, skills development, creativity, and interdisciplinary learning. Franklin encapsulates all of those things and I cannot wait to start!

Please tell us about your prior collaboration with our Head of School and what you look forward to.

Mr. Campbell and I worked closely on many fascinating projects in our time together in Australia. We had a shared vision for academic care, the skills curriculum, and capstone continuum. We shared this vision with our Year 11 and 12 students in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program by creating collaborative, creative sessions around skill development and building individualized profiles of how each student's strengths could be maximized and their weaknesses turned to strengths. We drove each other to develop new, engaging, and creative ways to embed the kind of 21st-century thinking skills we knew our students would require. To be reunited with such an educational visionary is a true career highlight.

Why is academic care important for every Franklin student?

Our Academic Care program will be the cornerstone of every student's success in school. Each student will have a living profile, which will track where they find challenges and successes, and where the former can become the latter. No two students are alike in how they learn, what they like to learn about, and how effective they are in their learning. Each student deserves to be first understood, challenged, and then given the skills to understand and challenge themselves. Academic care not only prepares our students for the rigors of high school, but also ensures college success — and most importantly, success beyond school and into their chosen fields.

What excites you most about Franklin's skills curriculum?

The skills curriculum is the beating heart of academic care. One of the most exciting parts of this program is the way it involves all teaching staff. We do not just have teachers of subjects; we have teachers of skills. Our teachers do not simply teach history, physics, and math, they teach students how to think historically, how to use physics to solve a problem, and how to research applications of math. Education has traditionally emphasized barriers between subjects. The skills curriculum, on the other hand, unites subjects in the minds of the students and faculty. We will teach our students how to think about thinking. I have heard too many times that a student "is just not great at English.” A skills curriculum changes this conversation to one of "How can we teach you to analyze literature the way you love to analyze scientific data?” It is an absolute game-changer.

What is your vision for the Capstone Project continuum?

My vision for the Capstone Project is to see our students start a four-year journey from a single “why” or “how.” Genuine student-driven projects are rare because many feel that younger students in grade 9 do not have the skills or the self-management to build a project from their limited life experiences. I argue the opposite. In their first year of high school, a student thinks more freely, considers possibilities, and tolerates more uncertainty than their older schoolmates. It is this curiosity and passion that we will harness in grade 9 to deliver a mini-capstone project so that when they arrive in grade 11 and begin the more formal and final project, they will have everything they need to explore knowledge without limitation.

Please share a bit about your passion for psychology.

What does it mean to be human? Is there any better question to ask? Psychology gives us the tools to break our behavior down into its components and then reassemble them with greater appreciation for how they interconnect. It has the flexibility to ask enormous questions like "How has globalization changed the way we create identity?" while also having the technological tools to ask "What role does a single hormone have on our potential to love?" I love that psychology has elements of science, but also acknowledges that human beings will always be far too complex to completely predict or manipulate. I love that psychology is continuing to evolve.

What are you most excited about for Franklin’s launch? 

The most exciting thing about Franklin’s launch for me is the fact that my 13 year-old son will join fellow students in having the opportunity to experience all the extraordinary things that Franklin has to offer!

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