The American International School of Bucharest (AISB) strives to be an example of gender inclusivity and empowerment within the field of education. The school was founded in 1962 and ever since has been dedicated to being accommodating for all learners and staff. AISB has a diverse student body and a faculty committed to fostering a culture of excellence and equality. 

Across the school there are several women in leadership positions. Among others, some of these women include AISB’s Director (Rachel Caldwell), ELC Principal (Rosella Diliberto), Elementary Principal (Jane Cooper), Secondary Principal (Melanie Kempe) and Business Manager (Liliana Stefanel). The Bite interviewed three of these women to learn about their perspectives on leadership and life; here’s our conversation with the Director, the Secondary Principal and the MYP Coordinator.

Rachel Caldwell; AISB Director

Rachel Caldwell is a dedicated mother, wife and international school leader. Her journey into education was inspired by the opportunities she encountered as a scholarship student in her own education coupled with the encouragement she received from influential female teachers. When asked about influential moments, she shared a story about a coach who asked her why she was not yet a school director mentioning a man of her age would have already been a director for many years. This motivated her to make her next move in leadership.

Driven by a desire to be a positive role model and to help boost confidence and courage in others, Caldwell shows a great commitment to the power of education. 

As the school director, Caldwell’s role  requires her to balance numerous responsibilities which she describes “as if I am constantly spinning plates in the air all at once.” Even with all her tasks, her focus remains on the students and their development. Caldwell recognizes that creating an environment for students’ learning and well-being requires cultivating strong relationships and providing ample opportunities for growth.

Caldwell believes that every member of the school community should feel empowered to pursue their aspirations and find joy. She wants to create a space where her colleagues are supported in their journey, whether it involves advancing in their careers or further pursuing their current roles. Through her leadership, Caldwell strives to ensure that everyone within the school community finds purpose, satisfaction and a clear pathway for progression.

During the interview, Caldwell discussed a book by Cheryl Sandberg that resonated deeply with her, particularly its exploration of women’s roles in society. A section of particular interest discusses gender tendencies in job applications. Sandberg’s research revealed an interesting pattern: men often assess job descriptions and feel confident applying if they can fulfill only a portion of the listed criteria. On the other hand, women tend to refrain from applying if they can’t excel in every aspect of the job description. This information touched Caldwell and she finds it fascinating how different experiences can be when it comes to jobs and gender. 

Develop your confidence and develop a really good network of support around you. Listen to feedback so that you can grow. I’m not trying to suggest that we are better than men at all but the level of confidence is sometimes an issue so have the confidence to put yourself out there. Have a go at things but be strong enough if it doesn’t work out to bounce right back.

Rachel Caldwell

Melanie Kempe; AISB Secondary Principal 

Melanie Kempe is currently in her third year at AISB; this is her first year as the secondary principal. Her husband is a highschool math teacher and Kempe has two children, a daughter in Middle School and a son in Elementary. She has worked internationally for several years and is an inspiration to many at our school.

In regards to women in leadership she is very excited to be on a team of women, considering both her and the director are female. She is very proud of the direction they are going and looking forward to all the impressive projects they are planning on working on. 

As a woman in a leadership position she has a lot of experience as well as advice that she believes is worth noting. She shares “It is very important to stay true to yourself and who you are. Do not focus on what other people have done or what they expect of you; stay true to what you believe in. The ways that you interact with and support other people is crucial to succeeding when placed in a role with significant responsibilities.” Kempe believes it is important to lean into being you true authentic self as it makes you very powerful when connecting with people.

Connections with people are at the heart of being an effective leader.

Melanie Kempe

Building relationships as well as properly communicating with others are key skills in this sort of workforce that truly make a difference in leadership. Recognizing the bond between yourself and colleagues, whether they be teammates or co-workers, is crucial for developing a strong foundation for work. This understanding forms the base upon which one applies their principles and approaches tasks. 

The first form of leadership that Kempe identified with was as a basketball referee; she started referring when she was a middle school student and then continued through highschool and college. As she progressed as a referee and moved through the hierarchy of the system she moved to the national level. One of the things she learned is how to be confident in her abilities and who she is. A major piece of that was having a mentor and a coach that helped her grow and to learn to be really reflective. A strategy she implemented was rewatching old tapes of the games that she refereed. Going back to watch herself while having someone talk her through her reffing is a fundamental principle reflected in the way she leads people now.

Kate Sorrell; AISB MYP Coordinator 

Kate Sorrell, originally from England, has spent the last 14 years living overseas enriching her personal and professional experiences. With 18 years of experience in teaching, her journey into education took a unique path. Initially pursuing a law degree and diving into the corporate world, her passion for teaching developed, eventually leading her to this career path. Now a mother of three young children, her life has evolved significantly, balancing the demands of both family and profession.

Transitioning from part-time work to full-time leadership within her educational career, Sorrell currently serves as the MYP Coordinator, actively engaging with teachers and students to facilitate the Middle Years Programme (MYP). Between England and international schools, Ms. Sorrell has taught at five different schools..

Sorrell reflects on her journey with satisfaction, recognizing the rarity of finding true fulfillment in one’s career. Despite initially considering a job in law due to her passion for public speaking, she ultimately returned to her childhood dream of becoming a teacher. 

Her professional growth took shape through diverse experiences, particularly in challenging school environments in England, where she worked in her late twenties. However, she acknowledges that her effectiveness as a leader has significantly improved with time and experience. Stepping away from leadership roles to focus on raising her children and then coming back to the educational world has provided her with many valuable insights, making her a more effective leader today.

Gain experience, be confident, ask for help, get coaching and mentoring. Also do not worry if it doesn’t happen straight away. Take your time, be patient. If I could  go back and tell my 28-year-old self anything it would be that; ‘you’ve got a lot of time’. I really wanted to take a lead on things when I was that age but actually there is no rush.

Kate Sorrell

Sorrell emphasizes the importance of patience and gaining experience, advising others to embrace the journey rather than rushing toward leadership aspirations. She advocates for seeking mentorship, coaching and support, recognizing the transformative power of learning and growth over time. 

As a working mother she offers valuable lessons in balancing career and family responsibilities. She emphasizes the importance of finding employers who value and support the complexities of parenthood, advocating for flexible work arrangements and acknowledging the unique challenges faced by working parents.