Kypros and Zoe Kouris, speaking for the first time about their outstanding creation in Limassol!

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Kypros and Zoe Kouris are now in their 40th plus year of the common journey on which they have embarked, and on the morning of Kypros’ 66th birthday, they did something they have never done before: they spoke for the first time about their creation - their 7th child, as it were – a top school in Limassol. The Heritage School, housed in an imposing building which dominates the Limassol-Troodos road and boasting facilities that stretch out over 130 hectares, is a well-known entity across Cyprus as well as abroad, with graduates who go on to become distinguished scholars in international universities.

The continuous development that the school has enjoyed for 3 decades has even led to pregnant mothers registering their unborn children to secure them a place on the school’s extensive waiting list. Indeed, the school is a deciding factor for many to choose Limassol and the areas near the Palodeia hills, where the school is located, as a permanent residence. And so, today, the school hosts almost 1,200 students, of 52 different nationalities and 39 different native languages, and employs a staff of 160. However, the story behind this school remains largely unknown and this is the main reason for such an interview with its founders in All About Limassol (the Official Source for Promoting Limassol).

It was Kypros and Zoe’s choice to not speak about the school they created, in an effort to avoid self-promotion. This, of course, resulted in shrouding the school in a cloud of vagueness, with various rumors surrounding it (from the sale of its shares to a Russian tycoon, to the procurement of major subsidies from the EU). In reality, however, this model school is the result of a spontaneous, yet very successful marriage, that of the brilliant and cheerful Zoe and the ever-measured and methodical Kypros. Beyond real friendship and deep love for each other, the two also shared common visions and principles, which took them on an extremely creative course, surpassing many obstacles and difficulties. 

The school was established in 1987. For a long time, it was housed on the ground floor of a 2-floor residence in the neighborhood of the A' and B’ Technical School in Limassol, accommodating approximately 50 students. Kypros and Zoe took over sometime later, after leaving Kuwait, where they lived, because of the war, to make a fresh, creative start in their hometown, Limassol. The rough, first few years often found them living with up to 10 people (6 children, parents, grandfather and assistant) in a 3-bedroom apartment. This did not discourage them, however, nor did the 12 years of delays due to the usual bureaucracy of most procedures in the Cyprus government departments, from the years 1995, when the couple first made the decision to move the Heritage to the Limassol-Troodos road, to 2007, when the school was finally housed in its new building, which by 2018 had more than doubled in size.

Where it all began…

KYPROS: My father worked in the orchards. He had large areas of land in Morfou, with lots of citrus trees. We grew up fairly comfortably, but he knew how difficult a farmer’s life was, so he wanted me to study to make sure I would have a job. He would tell me: “Find a job so that you can sleep soundly at night, without worrying about whether the frost will ruin the trees or the fruit.” Of course, I don’t know how well I managed to heed this advice. The life of a farmer was certainly a simpler one. When he and my mother visited me once in Guildford, England, where I was working at the University of Surrey, my father said “I feel bad for you, son, for you are having a hard time. You are at University all day, and when you return, after dinner, you sit down to study and write again.” I told him that I was happy, because I was doing what I loved.

ZOE: I was born and raised in England. My father was from Agia Fyla. He had ended up in Greece, studying law, where he met my mother, but was persecuted due to his political beliefs during the Civil War. He then fled to England with my mother, after having eloped in Greece. I spent many summers in Limassol with my grandparents from my father's side and I have beautiful memories, spending my days at the beach, where ‘Kastella’ once stood in Agios Tychonas, and where La Isla beach bar is today.


KYPROS: As a Cypriot student in Guildford, I had developed close relationships with Zoe’s uncles and, by extension, there was a close relationship between my parents and her family in Limassol. We thus only knew of each other remotely, and I would simply hear things about Zoe. Finally, when we did meet in person, I was captivated. We met again in 1978 and 5 days later, I proposed, after having asked her father for permission. I am 6 years older than she is, so you could say I was more than ready for marriage. 

When did your first meeting take place?
ZOE: We met for the first time in 1976. I had not noticed him, of course, because marriage was the furthest thing on my mind at the time.

Kypros is a measured man, something that is apparent in his movements and expressions while he talks. “I am not used to making quick and spontaneous decisions in my life,” he explains, “but for some reason that I have yet to understand, my proposal of marriage was instantaneous.”

ZOE: The first time he asked me on a date, after getting my father’s approval, he took me shopping, to buy cosmetics as a gift for his sister. This was, of course, something I was not particularly interested in at the time, nor am I today. I asked him 2 critical questions: if he liked onions and if he liked garlic. He responded positively to both, so that answer was key. I had initially told him to finish up a program that he had undertaken in Canada, and when he returned, we would see what would happen. Postponement was not in his plans, however, and he emphasized that it was ‘now or never.’ We had already planned a religious ceremony at the Agia Sophia Church in England. In the end, however, I visited him in Canada in the meantime and we had a civil ceremony there (because my father would not have allowed me to visit him otherwise).

That was my best flight ever. When the lady sitting next to me on the plane found out that I was getting married, she announced it to everyone, and so all the passengers celebrated and had drinks with us. 

What brought us close was, to a large extent, our work ethic. We always liked to create, to set goals and dedicate our time to them. We shared the same views on our future prospects. 

KYPROS: We didn’t know this from the start, but certainly our common values are what bound us together along the way. Of course, a marriage is a relationship that requires continuous work, because you cannot possible agree with your other half on everything.

How the Gulf War brought forth the idea for the Heritage!

ZOE: What facilitated our focus on education was the fact that, following our return to London from Kuwait, with our oldest daughter's enrolment at school and we ended up homeschooling her. She did quite well, especially in mathematics, though there is more to education than this, and she needed to socialize with other children in school. And so, we sent her to Limassol to live with her aunt and grandmother and continue attending school normally at Heritage, which was already operating with a Kindergarten and  Primary School. Not long after, we also made the decision to return to Cyprus, to develop the Heritage Secondary School.

How did your move to Kuwait come about?
ZOE: We lived in Kuwait for 8 years. Kypros, with his PhD in Medical Physics, taught at the Department of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine there. Myself, I worked with the first applications of the internet at the Medical Library. I had studied business management, but I had also later specialized in adult education.  

Kypros and Zoe with 3 of their 6 children, on a festive, family occasion.

KYPROS: I essentially specialized in the physics of diagnostic imaging technology and nuclear medicine, particularly tomography includin MRI, SPECT  and PET. My first experience with these scans was in 1979, though the technology has only just arrived in Cyprus, thanks to Dr. Zamboglou and his German Oncology Center. When war broke out in Kuwait, we were all in Cyprus thankfully. But we were never able to return to our home there, leaving behind our entire life to that day.   

After the war in Kuwait, we lost everything: cars, clothes, books. We went back to England and borrowed everything we could at first to get back on our feet.

What brought you back to Cyprus?
ZOE: The best investment you can make in a country after healthcare is education. We studied all the possibilities and finally decided to create this school. We came in July and by August we found a corner house on Leontiou Street, which we cleaned up and fixed so it could operate and accept students. 

The Heritage School was already operating in Cyprus as a Kindergarten and Primary School (initially in Moni and then on Stratigou Makriyianni Street, in the neighbourhood of A’ Technical School of Limassol). The head teachers and administrators were an English couple, Janet and David Austin, whom we met in Kuwait. They run a school there, too, which our 2 children attended. When they left Kuwait, they settled in Limassol. In order for the school to operate, however, it had to be established by a Cypriot, and so Kypros’ name was stated as such. 

The impressive new building of the Heritage School in the hills of Palodia opened its doors in 2007, featuring a large amphitheater at its peak where dozens of performances and events take place.  

KYPROS: When it was still located in Moni, the school had very few students. The numbers increased when it relocated to Stratigou Makriyianni Street, and prospects for its future began to appear. In 1989, the owners proposed that we become shareholders in the school. In 1992, we had to make the critical decision between coming back to undertake the development of the school’s secondary education, or allow it to remain as a kindergarten and primary school. This was not an easy decision to make for someone whose only experience until then had been in the academic field. When we returned to Cyprus, I also had other professional offers.

In 1994, I was offered the position of Director of the Department of Medical Physics at the Nicosia Hospital, which was at a high level on the paygrade scale. I made the very difficult decision to decline this offer. This was ultimately the right decision, even though my pay would have been much higher than what I was making as principal of the school. 

Whatever one does, if done with soul, it ends up being for the best. I always wanted to create something and this is what gives me joy. Our goal, by taking on the school, was set high from the start. This was a period when Limassol had begun attracting foreigners who sought permanent residence here. We studied these developments and it was then that we made the decision to buy the land where the school is located today. Since Limassol was already growing eastward, I thought it would also begin to grow towards the north, on the Limassol-Troodos road, which I still believe has great prospects today. 

The school demonstrated its abilities and good prospects early on, earning it an honor from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth herself. 

ΖOE: Initially, we had only bought 20 hectares, the area where the school football fields are located today. This seemed very large at the time, compared to the space we were in until then. In the end, we had to buy more land, before the school was finally set up and the new facilities created.

People thought we were mad when we made the decision to move to Palodia, just as they once thought people were mad when they bought plots in the Amathus area to build hotels.

This year, a new building was completed, featuring LCT and science laboratories, a cafeteria, fitness center and 12 classrooms. For this reason, we didn’t get any time off this year, because the construction site was fully working throughout August to ensure that everything was completed in time.

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The school at its first steps, when it was still operating in the 2-floor house, near the Old Hospital of Limassol.

KYPROS: When we bought the first plot, we intended to immediately move forward with construction. Our plans were overturned, however, due to the unfortunate Cypriot reality of successive delays in the license procurement process. Some delays were intentional; others were due to the failures in the system. There were, however, some people who, without seeking any reward or benefit, wanted to help us get our application examined. Indeed, in desperation I even found myself addressing the Minister. I explained that my wife and I had repatriated with 4 underage children, we had invested all that we had into this cause, and if we were not able to move forward with our project, we would need to leave Cyprus once again. At that, he responded “These are the kind of people we want in Cyprus,” and it was then that the process began to move forward.

When construction for the school began, people would wonder if it was going to be a hotel, or something else entirely. We did not want to make big announcements. We prefer actions rather than words. 

It’s easy to make promises. But much in the same way it’s considered bad parenting to promise your child something and not follow through, it is just as bad for a business to make promises to a client, or a government to its citizens, and fail to deliver. So we did the opposite: without making a single promise, we delivered this major project.

One school, a reflection of 2 incurably creative minds

Why did you choose to do something that posed such a great risk, and was also such a departure from your subject area?
KYPROS: Our aim was to be able to design something from scratch ourselves, to have full responsibility on all the decisions, and to give it the form that we wanted. This is something that reflects on both of us and it is one of the elements that brought us together from the start. So, while there may not be a lot of academic research in this business, we essentially do need to study and research every decision we make.

Was it your goal to become entrepreneurs?
KYPROS: We don’t feel like entrepreneurs and we certainly didn’t start this school with that aim in mind. It was, however, necessary to take out loans of millions in order to set up the school and, of course, it must have revenue in order to be sustainable so, yes, in that sense it does operate like a business. Nevertheless, the main aim of the work that we do is to continuously improve our offering to the 1,200 students and 160 staff members. If we viewed this simply as a business, for example, we would not be limiting the number of students in each class, which is something that also limits the school’s revenue.

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Students become acquainted with digital technology early on, with students as young as 8 years old using tablets as tools in the classroom old. The construction of the new school facilities focused on the creation of contemporary workspaces with dozens of modern computers, large interactive twhite boadrs, and other educational resources.

Why did you choose to do something that posed such a great risk, and was also such a departure from your subject area?
KYPROS: Our aim was to be able to design something from scratch ourselves, to have full responsibility on all the decisions, and to give it the form that we wanted. This is something that reflects on both of us and it is one of the elements that brought us together from the start. So, while there may not be a lot of academic research in this business, we essentially do need to study and research every decision we make.

Of course, the school is full and there is a waiting list for all who wish to register. We even have pregnant mothers adding their unborn children to the waiting list. 

It would therefore be easy to dismiss students if there is a problem with their payment, and register new ones. However, this is not the purpose of the work we are doing here, and it is not who we are. Some private schools were refusing to issue leaving certificates to students who had not paid their tuition fees. The Commissioner was forced to intervene so as to ensure that no child was deprived of their rights to education. This has always been our position. The only policy we enforce is to refuse to register a child into the new school year if there any pending debts, which we believe is reasonable.

The classrooms have adopted features that aim to boost the creativity of the students as well as reinforce their love for their school.

Cases of pending fees must be settled between the parents and the school in court, without the problem being transferred to the children. Of course, there are often lengthy delays in such processes, as well as directives given for settling payment in small installments, which are not always rooted in reality. We’ve had cases, for example, where parents wanted to pay their children’s tuition fees in monthly installments of €50, and at the same time we would see them buying new cars or going on expensive vacations.

Are private schools more lenient towards students?
KYPROS: In all my years at this job, I have only asked parents to leave my office 3 times, and this was because they were demanding favors or special treatment because they were paying for their child to attend school there. There is no room for such discussions, so we have had no more such incidents. Besides, we have very specific rules for behavior and discipline, which both students and parents receive right from the beginning.

There have been very few times when someone would threaten to complain to the Ministry in order to get their way and usually there were no foreigners involved in these.

Those who try pulling strings usually do so in order to bypass the waiting list. This cannot happen, however, because classes are strictly limited to 18 students for the younger ages, 24 for the older age groups, and 15 for the students taking intensive classes in their final 2 years. If we accept a student when there is no available position, this means that there will be an increase in the number of students per class, a limit which we consider to be a basic condition for correct lesson delivery.

In essence, we are creating a barrier to our revenue in order to ensure the quality of the educational process. 

For those who wish to support the school financially, if and when their child has been admitted, we explain that there are several ways to do so, such as the sponsoring of a school performance.

Have you ever had to expel students from school?
KYPROS: Expulsion is the result of a very serious offence, which means that the student will be removed immediately and permanently from the school. It is something that has happened fewer than 15 times throughout my career. We prefer that our students undergo a monitoring process instead, which will help them overcome problematic behaviors.

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The relationship between the school's owners and the staff is a warm one, as if they were all members of the same, close-knit family. A stroll through the school grounds on Kypros' birthday proved to be a testament to this strong relationship, as everyone stopped with a sincere smile to greet him and wish him well.

Is there a drug problem among students?
KYPROS: If we take into account the official EU statistics, the numbers indicate that if a school or a family has never faced such issues, then they are probably turning a blind eye. As a first step, parents should be aware of what their children might be hiding in their room.

At school, we take care to cover this issue on a scientific level, so that students are informed as to what exactly drugs are. Beyond that, there is 1 teaching hour per week where students discuss various social issues with their teachers, from divorce and interpersonal relationships to drug use. Additionally, it is stipulated in the school regulations that a student’s locker can be searched at any time for illegal substances, in the presence of 2 or more teachers.

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Every year, the school hosts performances of well-known musicals. These are high-level productions, offering students the opportunity to experience the arts and discover and cultivate their own talents. Kypros and Zoe’s eldest daughter, Alexandra, is in charge of these productions. With her recommendations, the school has been equipped with all the necessary facilities, from stage and lighting systems to dressing rooms with monitors to watch the show.  

What makes the Heritage stand out?
KYPROS: Certainly our image and reputation of excellence precede us. Additionally, graduates from our school do very well in their studies at English and French-speaking universities worldwide, however, it is also the human approach that we apply to everything that has to do with a student’s education.

Personal contact and communication with the student is very important, both in the classroom and at an individual level. This ensures a holistic approach to learning that is not merely limited to academic performance.

Teachers have a responsibility as educators not just in the classroom, but also during break times and on school trips. Anyone who wants to simply fulfill their teaching hours and then not bother with the students is not welcome at our school. We host meetings and seminars often with our department heads, with the aim of passing on this philosophy to the personnel. Ultimately, this makes both the teachers and the management feel like they are part of a team, all working towards the same goal.

“This is why, I think, students come to visit us when they return from their studies. When children feel the love and the interest you have for them and their welfare, they will never think of you as strangers,” says Zoe.

Have you tried to inform the people of Limassol about the school?
KYPROS: There have been efforts, but there are certainly gaps in peoples’ knowledge. This is why it bothers us that the general impression is that the Heritage is “for foreigners.” For one thing, when we refer to foreigners, we should be aware that we are referring to people. Cypriot hospitality has always been warm and embracing towards people from other countries, so this is an element that we cannot keep at bay.

Our school hosts almost 1,200 students (aged 2.5 to 18), of 52 different nationalities, and 39 different native languages.

Beyond that, however, we must point out that 1/3 of our students are Cypriot. Approximately 1/3 are Russian speakers, and the remaining 1/3 is made up of students from many other countries, such as Iceland, Finland, Israel, France, the Middle East, China, etc.

The stone-built constructions play a prominent role in the school’s design, seen in the amphitheater as well as in other areas. These rocks were dug out from the hill upon which the school was built, and then reused as recycled building materials. 

Students of Chinese descent in particular add to the value of the school, because they are especially inclined towards mathematics, and also bring with them a more intense culture of disciplined study, one which dictates “study and always aim for the best.” So, even though their level of English is not as good at first, they soon manage to reach the required level.

We find that, to a certain extent, our school reflects the diversity of the society of Limassol. The school itself is a small community, in which we also experience multiculturalism, a concept which to others may simply be abstract.

Indeed, we have recently been seeing an increase in Chinese students, and the Chinese population has grown considerably in Limassol, though Paphos was initially their preferred city of choice. Of course, students are taught Greek in all classes, with specialized lessons based on their varying levels of comprehension.

Is the Heritage therefore not a school that is geared towards foreign-languages?
KYPROS: No, Greek is taught on a regular basis, depending on competency. All students in Year 3, for example, are taught Greek. Only the Russian-speaking students, which make up approximately 1/3 of the student population, can opt for Russian as their language class instead of Greek. The students who take Greek lessons are divided into classes based on their corresponding fluency level, rather than by age. These range from beginners to native Greek speakers.

“We never once regretted our return to Limassol”

What bothers you most about the city?
KYPROS: The driving and the attitude on the roads needs a great deal of improvement. There is also a serious problem with cleanliness. Limassol doesn’t have a clean image, even though it could easily have one. I think the fault lies in the fact that we don’t take care of our city the way we do our home.

We have seen some progress in the area of recycling and this is a definite step in the right direction. If all schools begin to participate in environmental initiatives, this will set a positive precedent with the students. In addition to offering separate bins for recyclable materials in school, we also use electric vehicles and participate in composting with the help of our students.

Green initiatives are important to the school environment. Beyond the participation of the students, who are responsible for collecting fallen leaves and transferring them to special compost bins, others members of staff are also involved in various gardening activities. The small palm trees growing in sacks of soil, for instance, are cared for by a member of the school staff.

ZOE: We must be proud of our city. Only then will we begin to look after it properly. Limassol needs to grow and develop, but this needs to happen in a balanced way, with the right planning. Before the University was established in the center of the city, for example, infrastructure should have been in place allowing ease of access, public transport, sufficient parking, etc. All of this would help improve the overall image of Limassol.

It also concerns me that permissions are being granted for the building of towers in Limassol, without anyone ensuring that we have the proper infrastructure for them. When we began designing our school, we took care of all of this ourselves.

Roads were built to ensure easy ambulance access, inclines created to lead rainwater to the dam, and a biological wastewater treatment plant was created to recycle water. We even created our own 100kw photovoltaic park.

Do you believe that as a people, we have faults?
ZOE: In Cyprus, there is a tendency for people to try to out-best each other. Money and power have affected our island, as it has the rest of the world. In the past, things were different. You see it from the way people appreciated educators, for example: at events, it was always the teachers who sat in front, not the politicians.

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A centuries-old olive tree was planted at the entrance of the school, in front of the new buildings. This tree was once located in a field belonging to Zoe, where it was in danger of being destroyed. The entire school has a clear ecological purpose, boasting a photovoltaic system which covers approximately ¼ of its energy needs, a biological wastewater treatment plant and 3 electric vehicles.

I feel that people have lost the sense of refinement and politeness in their daily behavior. We were recently at a seminar along with other educators, when, as the speaker was still at the podium speaking, people got up to grab snacks from the buffet. This shows disrespect. Education is something that begins at home, and later at school. Both sides contribute to how a person will grow up. We have seen that good manners and respect in general have been lost as years go by, but we feel it even more intensely in Cyprus

KYPROS: There is a great deal of jealousy in our country against successful people. This incites gossip and rumors that are, as a rule, untrue. Living in a small society makes it easier to be suspicious and envious of success. In contrast, when my professor in England had recommended me for a scholarship and wanted to gain British citizenship, no one placed obstacles in my way.

Kypros and Zoe, for all their enthusiasm and appetite for creation, as well as their love for their home and their fellow citizens, have nevertheless found themselves having to repeatedly deal with unsavory circumstances, brought about by the Cypriot mentality. Despite this, they have made it clear that they don’t regret their return in the least. Rather, they wish to stay and see Limassol grow and improve, because they can see clearly everything that makes it stand out from the rest of Cyprus, from the great fun it offers, to its natural beauties on display. The school they created is not merely an investment, but rather their life’s work, into which they have poured their heart and soul, and which takes up almost the entirety of their daily life.

As Kypros explains, there are some in this country who have embodied the role of ‘professional complainers,’ but thankfully, there are plenty of professionals who have worked hard to create something special and remarkable, such as this model school. Limassol has the good fortune of hosting such people who set the bar high, who aim at excellence, and who give the city these unique traits, allowing it to become an attractive destination, worthy of competing with any city abroad. People who passionately follow what they love, who take risks and refuse the status quo have given Limassol reasons to stand out, contributing to the prospect of growth, which in turn creates a chain reaction towards an environment of overall wellbeing for all the city’s residents. 

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