Dr. Ralph Maurer brings a distinctive background in teaching to Oxbridge Academy: he previously ran The International School Nido de Aguilas — an English-language Day School in Santiago, Chile — and served as a faculty member at Tulane University's business school.
Now, in his new role as the head of school at Oxbridge, Dr. Maurer, 43, wants to transform the academy into the preeminent independent school in the Southeast.
Dr. Maurer, who officially started July 1, recently discussed his goals and plans for Oxbridge.
Why did you want this job?
I thought it offered an extremely exciting opportunity to build a school of distinction in Florida. I grew up in Florida and I've never seen a project like this before. Oxbridge has got a unique curriculum, it's got a really unique culture — a culture of kindness. It goes very deep. And it also has a degree of generosity in terms of financial aid, and gives it to diversity that really dramatically improves the quality of education in our schools. Starting with those values is a great base. I had seen what had been accomplished in a short amount of time and it was incredible.
How did your past jobs help prepare and inform you for what you’re doing now?
It prepared me for two different things. Post-secondary education let me see what happens after secondary education. It let me see the product of high school, what they were turning out. I saw that high schools were turning out very smart kids who had a deficit with what they needed in life, particularly in writing. And the ones that I saw that were doing very well with that — every one of them had gone to a school that had intentionally paid attention to those elements.
When I switched over to K through 12 (in Chile), it was a wonderful experience. I got to run four divisions: early childhood, elementary, middle and high school. I got to learn deeply about each area. It was the first job I ever had where I loved getting up in the morning because I loved the kids. I discovered I had this passion for education. It’s where you make the difference.
How has running a school changed over the years?
What I can tell you is that schools, the fundamentals of teaching, have not changed. Good teaching is good teaching is good teaching. Nevertheless, there are changes across every industry.
Schools need to have closer relationships with the community they’re in to understand what is needed. They call it “getting off the lawn.” Schools are becoming better citizens in their neighborhood. They're getting out there, they're interacting, understanding what these communities need for their children.
What are your goals for Oxbridge?
There are some mid-term and short-term goals. I can tell you that we want to become the best independent school in the Southeast, but you have to be more specific than that. I want it to be a school of distinction that is known for unique curricula, teaching methods and kindness. I want to have clear answers for questions like: What is worth teaching, and how? What constitutes a superbly educated person in this day and age?
I want it to be unique. I don't want it to be like anything around here whatsoever. I want it to serve each child enormously well, bring them to their full potential and serve them for the rest of their life.
I also want to double down on professional development for teachers so they’re deeply engaged in their fields, and I want to become a hub for a meaningful discussion of important topics in the Palm Beach area. I think those are tangible goals.
How is Oxbridge approaching security in the aftermath of school shootings around the country?
We have a superb security system. Our approach is as it should be in most situations: You can eliminate threats at the perimeter. That's gonna be a huge percentage of reductions in anything that can occur. We have armed security, not just inside the building but outside. We have three armed security guards at all times, and they roam. If you drive a car into the campus, if you're not a known person, they'll come up to you.
And all our buildings are locked down with ID security cards. All students have ID cards around their neck, and they’re coded. So if somebody were to leave the school or was expelled, their card would be shut off that day. And we drill, drill, drill. You're only as good as you drill.
Oxbridge went through a period of turmoil about two years ago with an internal investigation into the school’s finances and accusations of sexual harassment. How do you ensure that stays in the past?
I had several options for jobs out there in the country, and part of the reason I was considering this one was how well the whole situation was handled in terms of the investigation.
You absolutely have to make sure things like this won't happen again, and I’m well aware of how you handle them. The things that Oxbridge went through, when I say they're not unusual, that is not to say they're OK. There are preventive procedures and methods that you can put in place to mitigate the likelihood of these things happening and the damage they cause.
You will never drive out corruption, accusations of sexual harassment and things like that out of an organization. But you have to do everything you possibly can to make sure it doesn't happen on your watch.