Past, Present and Future of Island Pacific School

By Julia McCaig

Ted Spear had a dream.

With a PhD in Policy Studies in Education completed, Ted emerged from his scholastic training with the conviction that the time had come for a new teaching model — one where young people could experience a liberal education, where students could integrate academic and experiential learning, where discovery and exploration would be as essential to the curriculum as more predictable areas of scholarship, where young learners could discover, in Ted’s words, “the very best of what it means to be a human being.”

Ted thus established the Renaissance II Liberal Education Society in 1984, which in turn became Island Pacific School (IPS) 11 years later.

Ted sought to improve the educational models currently in practice within contemporary schools. He wanted to revitalize the theory and practice of a liberal education because he believes “a liberal education enables a person to free themself from both the ignorance and superstitions of one’s own time.”

When its doors first opened in 1995, IPS welcomed 14 students into Grades 7, 8, and 9. Six years later, Ted encouraged IPS faculty to explore the theory and practice of a liberal education, conducting Tuesday afternoon seminars known as the Institute of Liberal Education. The group examined the philosophy of liberal education, and progressed to curriculum development and implementation, all within the context of a middle school.

Such professional conversations encouraged teaching faculty to explore and discuss pedagogical issues unique to middle school culture.

Today the school continues to operate as an independent society, and the school’s governance structure is inclusive and democratic, part of a strategic plan to sustain the school for future generations.

IPS is a member of the Independent School Association of BC, a small cohort of mission-driven institutions that stand for excellence. In 2008 IPS became a member of the Canadian Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) — alongside some of Canada’s oldest and most established institutions such as Upper Canada College, Brentwood, St. Michaels University School, and Saint George’s. IPS is the smallest member school of CAIS. In 2009, IPS became an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, significant because of the collective efforts of IPS teachers to create a culture for learning steeped in scholarship, service, and global mindedness.

Many hands have reached out since our earliest beginnings, supporting Island Pacific School in becoming a destination for self-discovery, inspiration and excellence.

A small and independent school by definition will always rely on the generosity of its families, and the philanthropic heart of one particular Bowen family enabled the realization of Ted Spear’s dream of a school celebrating a liberal education.

Walt and Laura Ruloff arrived on Bowen in 1995. Following the successful sale of Walt’s software company in 1998, he and Laura felt compelled to seek out and support projects that would leave a positive and lasting impact on their community.

“Our mission was to take care of the physical, the natural, the educational – all the ways to take care of the island, and to do it in a way that is gracious and quiet,” said Walt.

The couple created the Smooth Stones Foundation, the immediate focus of which would be the building of a community church, now Cates Hill Chapel, and the building which now houses IPS.

In conversation with Ted during some regular philosophy nights at Doc Morgan’s Pub, Walt learned of Ted’s dreams for the school. “I was fascinated by Ted’s school model and the whole concept of IPS and we started dreaming about creating a building where the church and the school could share facilities,” said Walt.

He and Laura voiced concerns that while they were happy to support the construction of a church, they wanted to create something to benefit the entire Bowen community, not only a building to be used one day a week.

“We were worried that when we built this beautiful church, it wouldn’t be used to its optimum. We wanted it to be used by IPS as an auditorium, and used by the community for concerts and community events.”

Discussions gathered momentum and a permanent home for IPS, at that time housed in what is now the municipal buildings, became a reality.

An undeveloped piece of land was donated to the Ruloff’s foundation by developer Wolfgang Duntz, who also brought a paved road and power to the site.

Many more hands participated in creating IPS, but at the core, it was a powerful act of philanthropy that propelled IPS from the dream stage and into reality.

Moving forward

Moving forward – this chapter in the IPS story belongs again to the generosity of the Ruloffs, through the Smooth Stones Foundation, and to Bowen Island Properties’ Wolfgang Duntz.

Under the guidance of Scott Herrington, our current head of school, IPS opted for a major step towards independence by taking on a mortgage and purchasing the school outright, the whole venture buffered tremendously via a $150,000 donation from the Smooth Stones Foundation.

Our head, Scott, envisioned the land as the ideal location for a field house, a place for outdoor learning, for sports, for celebrations and assemblies, and of course, Rites of Passage.

A second generous gift was made by Bowen Island Properties, of strata lot 2. This parcel of land allows us the consideration of all sorts of exciting future possibilities.

Our identity and future success will always be the result of generous acts such as those of the Ruloff and Duntz families, and the guidance of visionaries like Ted and Scott as well as former head Michael Simmonds. We have been fortunate to share our vision and dreams with all who have supported us.

But similarly, all gifts received from families, individuals and community members are what allow us to grow and flourish. Whether for special projects — such as creating outdoor seating benches and tables to enhance our grounds as a community gathering space, or providing financial aid to those families whose children might not otherwise be able to attend IPS, or improving our technology program with smart screens and robotics — we are always able to travel just a little farther with such largesse.

Our school’s creation 25 years ago was supported by many hands, but at the core, it was a powerful act of philanthropy that propelled IPS from the dream stage and into reality.

We look forward to the next 25 years as we begin by creating a beautiful covered play area and community gathering space.