English teacher leaving to teach in Africa

Kirk Hinton takes job in Kenya to teach at international school in country’s capital

Palo Alto High School English teacher Kirk Hinton, who has worked at Paly for nearly  seven years, will begin a new chapter in his and his family’s lives when they move to Nairobi, Kenya this summer.

Hinton has been accepted a three-year contract to teach at Rosslyn Academy, an “international Christian school founded in 1947 [and] a private co-ed day school with a North American curriculum for grades preschool through 12,” according to the school’s website.

While the news of Hinton’s move has slowly been titrating out into the Paly community, Hinton says that the major change has been in the works for quite some time.

“This has been something that’s been probably 10 years in the making or so,” Hinton said. “Right after [my wife and I] graduated from Cal Poly, we ended up going to France and teaching there, but we very nearly went into the Peace Corps in West Africa to teach over there.”

Hinton says that his wife — who taught social studies courses for seven years at Del Mar High School in San Jose — had wanted to move to Africa since she was 12 after going on a safari with her grandparents. Her dream soon became fulfilled after she and Hinton searched for a new opportunity that was suitable enough for their two young daughters, ages four and one.

“About five years ago, we started looking real seriously into the option of teaching overseas, so this year we decided… our girls… are old enough that they’ll appreciate it, but not so old that we have to pull them out of school and totally disengage [them,]” Hinton said. “So I started looking around at international schools, mainly in East Africa, and applied to about a dozen.”

Hinton, who has never been to Africa before, interviewed for the position at Rosslyn Academy via Skype and says that, “While I’ve digitally met the people I’m going to be working for, I haven’t met them face-to-face yet.”

Because all of Rosslyn Academy’s English teaching spots are already filled, Hinton will be teaching a few classes that are new to him, but will continue his unofficial role as a technology liaison, as he did at Paly.

“Part of my responsibilities over there is… teaching teachers about tech in the classroom and training and all that kind of stuff,” Hinton said.

Hinton will also be teaching a technology applications course, part of a freshman seminar, a semester of SAT prep (pending enough sign-ups) and yearbook. Hinton says that he has been talking to Paly yearbook adviser Margo Wixsom to learn more about teaching the course — which he has no prior experience in — as well as talking to a high school friend who has been teaching yearbook for 11 years.

The student demographic that Hinton will be working with is very different from that which he is accustomed to at Paly, where many students have lived in Palo Alto their whole life.

“A lot of business peoples’ kids, diplomats’ kids; there’s a lot of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] in Nairobi, so a lot of NGO [workers’] kids, kids of missionaries,” Hinton said. “About 40 percent of the kids are American and the other 60 percent are from 50-some countries. It’s very, very diverse.”

Rosslyn Academy has a total enrollment of about 650 students, 200 of which are in the high school.

“Because of the nature of their parents’ work… [students] move every two and a half years,” Hinton said. “So you have a lot more what they call ‘third culture kids,’ kids who are from one culture and grow up in another culture but aren’t really a part of either of them. I think to some extent, understanding those issues [of third culture kids] and being able to use them to our advantage is going to be a challenge, but also the transient nature of the population is very rare.”

Hinton’s contract is for three years, but if he chooses to stay in Kenya for longer than two years, his job in the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) could find itself in jeopardy.

“We hold his teaching spot for a year and then at the end of the year, he can apply for a second year if he chooses,” Principal Kim Diorio said. “The practice with the teacher contract is that you can only do two years, tops, of a leave of absence, and then at the end of two years, say he wants to remain in Africa, he’d have to resign.”

Hinton says that technically it is possible to request a leave of absence for longer than two years, but that the Board of Education has never approved such a request before.

“If we do decide to come back after three years, I’m hopeful that there’d be a job,” Hinton said. “I’ve talked to a couple people about coming back [and] signs are positive, but of course you can never guarantee that there’s going to be a job. If we are coming back, then yeah, I’d like to come back to Paly or at least Palo Alto.”

For now, Hinton says he’s going to miss all Paly has offered him.

“I’m going to miss the students, first and foremost,” Hinton said. “The students here are a lot of fun to work with, and they are mostly very motivated. There’s an incredible amount of support for teachers in this community, which has been amazing.  It  has been really fun to see how different teachers deal with something and get ideas from different teachers, because that’s something that not all schools have. We have a pretty collaborative department, so I’m going to miss that.”

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