ISB celebrating 40 years! - History of the school

The story of the International School of Bergen begins with the discovery of oil off the western coast of Norway. Along with this discovery came the realization that the necessary skills and expertise would have to be imported from successful oilproducing countries such as the United States. Stavanger was quickly established as the centre of this new industry but supplies and further development work soon moved further up the coast to Bergen.

When Harold Ogaard arrived in Bergen in May, 1975, he discovered that very little work had been done to establish an American school in the town. Since his wife would not move to Bergen if there was no American school, Harold set out to start a school by that Fall.

His first task was to meet the Director of Stavanger American School, Miles Lovelace. Miles Lovelace gave invaluable advice but was not in a position to give direct help as this was not permitted by the Board of Trustees of the Stavanger American School. One piece of advice which Harold followed rigorously was to obtain expert assistance. This assistance was found through International School Services (ISS) of Princeton, New Jersey. Dr. John Sly of ISS co-ordinated the recruitment of teachers and the purchasing of books and supplies. The funding for this was raised as a result of the approaches made to various companies by Harold Ogaard. In total, he raised USD 35 000.

But where was the school to be located and how would premises be obtained? The Bergen School Department had an old school house which had been used as a summer camp location available at Brattholmen on the island of Lille Sotra. These premises could be provided rent-free for three years along with some furniture and other equipment. After much discussion, this site was chosen and work started to prepare it to receive its first students. The building had been unused for the two years and needed everything… paint, floor covering, double glazing, plumbing, lighting, heating and a really good clean. Harold Ogaard mustered an army of volunteers and once again called suppliers and oil companies to get donations of everything from fencing material to new drapes for the classrooms. Bergen Kommune also provide NOK 100 000 to cover the majority of the repair and maintenance work.

An interim Board of Trustees had been established, composed of: Bill O’Keefe and Fred Billing of Seaway diving, Al Wright of Star Shipping, Shorty Gibbons of Mobil Oil Company, Joan Ragas and Root and, of course, Harold Ogaard. Before the official opening, it was decided to hold an election to formalize the ownership of the school. Bill O’Keefe, Al Wright, Joan Ragas and Harold Ogaard were elcted and Melba Gibbons took over Shorty’s spot. The Board was to remain self-perpetuating until a change in the School Charter in 1994.


The opening date was set to September 17th. 1975. A full Kindergarten through Grade Six programme would be offered. A teaching couple, Tom and Jane McColgan had been found to act as teacher/Director and teacher. The Bergen American School was set for the first day of school.

The “Little Red School House on the Fjords” opened with an enrolment of 17 students in Kindergarten through Grade Three. In its first three first years, the population grew to 56, spread from Kindergarten to Grade Ten. The staff also grew to five full-time teachers, three part-time teachers (including the Director), and a part-time librarian. The school day started at 8:45 am and finished at 3:30 pm. The Kindergarten day finished at 01:00 pm. The students came mostly from the United States and the United Kingdom. From the very beginning all students were exposed to the language and the culture of Norway through a combination of direct instruction and frequent visits to the local museums and other areas of interest.

In 1978, the school moved closer to the centre of Bergen and relocated in a disused schoolhouse, Damsgård skole, in Laksevåg. This move was necessary to accommodate the growing school population and the range of classes being offered. This allowed the two sections of the school, the Kindergarten through Grade Six and the High School, started in 1977 in Sandviken School, to come together under one roof. Again, Bergen Kommune covered the majority of the costs of renovating the building.

In 1980, a major crisis occurred which called into questions the viability of an American School on the Bergen area. In June 1980, only 8 students were re-enrolled for the following school year. At this time, it was decided to start up a scholarship programme for the children of the local residents. This immediately doubled the enrollment and by September, twenty-five more oil-related students turned up to swell the numbers. The crisis was over. At this time, the curriculum was also adjusted to incorporate UK examination courses for students in Grade Nine and Ten.

Three years passed and once again, the school was on the move. This time to a location on the southern side of Bergen centre – Slettebakken School in Landås. For the first time the American School would be sharing a campus with a Norwegian public school. This move was made in the summer of 1982. At Slettebakken, full use was made of the classrooms and other facilities provided, including a gymnasium, a science laboratory, a cookery room and an art room. Frequent use was also made of the local ice hall and the lake and park adjacent to the school.

First all-school picture at the new facilities at Slettebakken in the early 1980's

In 1984, to reflect the more varied student body and the adjustment that had been made to the curriculum to accommodate the needs of the student body, the school changed its name to the International School of Bergen. Shortly afterwards, the Bergen Playgroup, was incorporated into the School to become its Pre-School department. In 1985, the school sought and succeeded in gaining accreditation from the European Council of International Schools and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

School picture in the gym
School picture in the gym
All ready to go skiing in 1987 - 88
All ready to go skiing in 1987 - 88

Throughout the rest of the 1980’s, the enrolment varied from year to year dependent on the ups and downs of the oil industry. The school was hit by a major financial crisis in 1988 when Bergen Kommune discovered that the school had not been billed for electricity and other costs for any of its years at Slettebakken. They billed the schooll for just over NOK 500 000, a sum far in excess of any reserves that the school had, and it was only after a period of intense negotiations that the bill was withdrawn.

The school's Dutch section
The school's Dutch section

In the 1990's, as a result of the developement of the Troll oil field, a Dutch section was established in the school to accommodate Dutch families working for Royal Dutch Shell. This section was closed in 1998 when Shell withdrew their last personnel. Another trend at this time was the increased interest in the school and its programmes from the local community. Many Norwegian with overseas experience wished their children to continue their education in English upon their return to Norway; many foreign residents of Bergen wished their children to benefit from the dual language education in Norwegian and English that the school could provide.

Last all-school picture 1989-1990, after that we were to many to all fit in one picture
Last all-school picture 1989-1990, after that we were to many to all fit in one picture

In 1991, the school adopted the International Association’s curriculum for the Middle Years as the first non-pilot school. (This curriculum was later taken over by the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme.) This was done to provide a continuous programme for the students in Pre-School through Grade Ten. The International Baccalaureate Diploma programme was already well-established at a local school for older students and the adoption of the Middle Years Programme was seen as a way of providing a complete programme of international education in the Bergen area.

So, forty years on, we have a school which is very different in just about every way from the one which was created as a result of the tremendous, and most commendable efforts of Harold Ogaard. Our student body has increased ten-folds from 17 to 170 and represent more than thirty nations, not just the United States and the United Kingdom, and their parents represent every walk of life, not just the oil industry. The School provides a programme of instruction for 3 to 16 year olds, not just 5 to 12 years old. The curriculum is international rather than American. The facilities are centrally located in Bergen and far larger than those at Brattholmen.

In some ways though, things have not changed. Three main characteristics have been prevalent at all stages of the school history: a determination to succeed, a strong community spirit and, last but not least, a pride in the endeavor. Harold Ogaard and his helpers sowed the seeds in 1975 and they have continued to be at the heart of the International School of Bergen throughout its first forty years.

The school still serves its original mission setting out to provide an internationally accredited education serving the business and Bergen communities. As Bergen and its region develops and evolves as a city, we are as relevant as ever.

As the interest in international education grows in Norway through the establishment of international schools in many locations, we believe that ISB continues to have a potential that can be further explored through the local students wanting to prepare for the future through international schooling in an English-speaking environment in addition to the individuals with expertise brought from abroad with their families needing an educational consistency of international standards.

With a  move to larger premises in the near future – we are looking forward to celebrating our fiftieth anniversary in ten years’ time!

Staff photo from school year 2004 - 2005
Those were the days: Staff photo from school year 2004 - 2005
Ten years later: Staff photo from school year 2014 - 2015
Ten years later: Staff photo from school year 2014 - 2015