Francis Gianni, Head of School at French-American
The Accent Is on a Global Education at FASNY
By Robin Jovanovich
Francis Gianni became the sixth head of the French-American School of New York last fall, which gave him just enough time to settle in, get to know the community, and spend time on all three school campuses before the arrival of Covid-19.
“What can I say? It was baptism by fire,” said Gianni in an interview this week. He said he and the staff remained focused on the heart of their mission: “ensuring the well-being of our students by building critical thinking, motivation, and confidence. We do it through involving them in projects. And we involve the parents from the start, ‘training’ them to help us verify that our curriculum is having the desired impact and that their children are truly learning.”
Gianni is proud to say that the education is rigorous at FASNY. It is the only school in the metropolitan area that offers an International Baccalaureate diploma.
FASNY was founded as a French immersion pre-school in 1980. Forty years later, it is an international school and ranks just behind Hackley and Rye Country Day schools in Westchester. In fact, this school year they began offering a predominantly English-speaking curriculum in grades 1-8. Little or no French is required, but everyone learns to read, write, and speak French, which in essence becomes a second language.
“We offer an enhanced American curriculum,” proffered Gianni. “It’s international, multicultural, and unique. Our graduates leave as citizens of the world.”
With travel to a city museum, much less one in a foreign country, curtailed by the pandemic, Gianni decided that the school needed to bring art to the school. He reached out to great museums around the world and asked if they could make models of some of the sculpture in their collections. In a matter of months, the halls at French-American were lined with first-class replicas. “The museum is your school is my message to students. They are so close to these works and so knowledgeable that many have become our museum guides, giving tours to special visitors and prospective families,” said Gianni with distinct pleasure.
The search for a replacement to succeed Joël Peinado, who left after 24 years to become the president of the International College in Beirut, was a long and selective process. With Gianni, FASNY found the ideal candidate. He has a degree in Philosophy from the Sorbonne and taught at a high school before being hired as a professor at Arizona State, where he also earned a graduate degree in Global Management. While living in Phoenix he was approached by an international company that asked him to train its engineers in situational leadership. He took the job, which gave him a perspective outside academia. He later moved back to France, where he ran a UNESCO school in Lille, and then the International School of Monaco for five years before coming to New York.
“Philosophy helps you address skills that citizens of the world need,” he said thoughtfully. It focuses on truth and critical thinking. Schools need the same vision.”
For Gianni, the warm welcome that he, his wife, who works for a dynamic startup, and their daughters, both high school students at FASNY, (they also have a son who is studying at King’s College in England) has been a gift. “We’ve enjoyed the best of human experience with students, parents, and faculty who have been generous, open, and ready to help.”
FASNY has a long history of helping. One hundred and thirty of its 770 students receive financial aid. “We keep our tuition fees low to remain accessible. If a family can’t afford to pay, we can.”