Andrew Auster’s frenetic life with the Haileybury schools in Kazakhstan

26 сентября 2011, 12:04

My friend Andrew Auster’s life has been a whirlwind since he arrived in Kazakhstan in 2007.

Andrew’s played a key role in helping the country obtain not just one but two versions of Britain’s venerable Haileybury School  – the first in Almaty and the most recent in Astana. After each was built, the musician and former rugby player became headmaster of it.

Construction of Haileybury in Almaty was finished just days before it opened at capacity – 360 children -- in September of 2008. It has steadily added students, teachers and programs since.

The idea for a Haileybury Almaty originated with Serzhan Zhumashov, managing director of Capital Partners, one of Kazakhstan’s largest real estate companies. Zhumashov was delighted with the education that Haileybury was providing his eldest son Dastan in Britain, but wanted the same quality of instruction available in his homeland.

When the director of development at Haileybury’s main British campus, Alister Bartholomew, was recruiting students in Kazakhstan in 2007, “I asked Alister over dinner why not open a school in Almaty,” Zhumashov told me not long ago.

“We wanted to have an internationally recognized school in Kazakhstan that would give our children the quality of education that would enable them to enter leading universities around the world,” explained Bolat Utemuratov, one of Kazakhstan’s most successful businessmen and a longtime adviser to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Haileybury’s board thought an Almaty campus was a splendid idea.

With Utemurtov and other high flyers joining Zhumashov in ensuring that Haileybury Almaty would become a reality, the school quickly went from the drawing boards to construction.

Andrew, a longtime music teacher and headmaster at British schools who has a firm handshake and ready smile, was delighted when Haileybury asked him to become headmaster in Almaty.

He had had music-related connections with the former Soviet Union for two decades, including helping bring choirs from Russia and Ukraine to Britain for performances.

In addition to Russian orphans, the singers included the internationally known Chamber Choir of Voronezh, Russia, and Ukraine’s Kiev-based Boyan National Choir.

Nothing that’s world-class, innovative or cutting-edge in Kazakhstan escapes President Nazarbayev’s attention for long – and in December of 2008 the president visited the Almaty campus.

The gleaming facilities and the quality of instruction were so impressive that he told Haileybury officials: “I like what I see. Please open a school in Astana.”

Utemuratov quickly agreed to spearhead the construction effort.

Andrew, a former Cambridge and Gloucester rugby player, had hardly caught his breath when Zhumashov, other influential supporters of Haileybury Almaty and the school’s board of governors asked him to become headmaster of the Haileybury in Astana.

Andrew had earned the respect of Haileybury parents by running an excellent school while also being a nice guy, Zhumashov said.

Although Andrew was enjoying Almaty, where his off-duty moments included playing a mean sax in a jazz group at Mad Murphy’s pub, he agreed to move to the capital.

Construction of the Astana campus began in July of 2010.

To ensure the school would open in August of 2011, the work was done 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Andrew won’t forget his move to Astana early this year to recruit students, teachers and staff for the facility. “I arrived January 12 in minus 30-degree (Celsius) weather,” he said. “I was wearing long Johns.”

The Haileybury team worked out of an office at the Radisson Hotel until the school was finished in mid-August.

Two weeks later, a delighted President Nazarbayev presided at the opening of the Astana campus.

I called Andrew recently to see how the start-up was going – and he was eager to speak to that subject.

“Our roles have gone up 35 percent in two weeks,” he said. “We opened with 103 students. But the word has gotten around about us, and we’re now at 135 students.”

I’m glad for Andrew – and for those sending their children to the school.

And I must confess I have a selfish reason for wanting him in Astana. I watched him play sax in Almaty. He’s darned good.

I’m hoping he’ll find a venue here – and talk the manager into giving me a discount when I patronize the place. Those Johnny Walkers add up, you know.


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