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On Island Profile: Ben Biddle

July 7, 2006 – There have been big changes at the St. John School on Gifft Hill, and Ben Biddle is at the heart of them. For starters, the school has a new name – The Gifft Hill School. And Biddle has taken over the reigns of the school from his close friends and co-administrators Scott Crawford and Sabrina Bobert. The job comes with a new title too – head of school rather than administrator.
Crawford and Bobert are still at the school. Crawford's the dean of students and Bobert heads up business and operations.
Biddle said that after long discussions with Crawford and Bobert, they all agreed that he would move up from his post as dean of students in order to take the school to the next level.
"I had the energy and the ideas at the moment," Biddle said.
Crawford and Bobert shepherded the school through enormous growing pains. The school opened in 2000 as The Coral Bay School, the first secondary school on St. John. In 2005 the school merged with Pine Peace School, which serves lower grades, to become the St. John School on Gifft Hill.
After nearly a year of construction, in September 2005 the school opened its new secondary school campus on Gifft Hill Road, just a short drive away from what had been the Pine Peace School campus. The lower grades remain at the old Pine Peace School campus.
Biddle has nothing but praise for Crawford and Bobert.
"I like the atmosphere Scott and Sabrina fostered. It's very positive and accepting of all sorts of kids," he said.
He said that because Gifft Hill is a young school, there are lots of opportunities to add electives like gardening, landscaping and animal care to make the curriculum relevant to St. John. Biddle said the focus on college preparation will continue.
Biddle also said the school will strive to keep tuition costs down so anyone can attend.
"As a private school, it needs to be as public as possible," he said.
He said he envisions the school serving as a community center with youths and adults participating in a range of activities.
And, he said one of his goals is to get more parental involvement.
Biddle, 33, started teaching English and history at the school three years ago after he and his wife, Downing, stumbled onto the school while on a short trip to St. John. Biddle was teaching at the Good Hope School on St. Croix when the two came to visit.
"I got off the ferry and said 'this is the island for us,'" Biddle said.
He spotted the sign in the Lumberyard shopping complex for what was then called the Coral Bay School, stopped by for a visit and the rest, as they say, is history.
Biddle said he got a taste of the Caribbean when his mother moved to St. Croix. He grew up in Washington, D.C., before heading off to Princeton University in New Jersey to get a bachelor's degree in English.
He spent the year after graduation teaching in Guangzhou, China, before returning to Washington for a five-year stint in investment banking. Disillusioned with his choice of career, he spent the next year and a half in France writing.
Biddle then moved to St. Croix because, he says, "the Caribbean seemed interesting."
When he's not at the school, he spends time with his family, which now includes 20-month-old twins, Oliver and Harrison. He also plays soccer and reads. "Philosophy and Greek literature," he said.
He's still as excited about living on St. John as he was when he first arrived.
"I love how friendly the people are. I love the way community members engage in everyday interaction," he said.
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