JENNIFER Wisker knew she was walking into an uneasy situation when she accepted the job of running the largest chain of international schools in the world. As the new secretary - in effect, chief executive - of Hong Kong's English Schools Foundation (ESF), the placid Briton was taking over the desk of a man thrown out of office by angry teachers. Ms Wisker replaces Maurice Millard, the former chief executive who sparked a 19-month storm of outrage from teachers and parents, a vote of no-confidence in the ESF executive, and an inquiry by the Education Department. Mr Millard, criticised by teachers for his ''autocratic'' style of management and lack of consultation on major issues, received a handsome consolation for giving up his open-ended $2.2 million-a-year package. The 1991 board of inquiry, headed by Judge Caird, recommended Mr Millard be moved sideways within the foundation. But pressure from internal factions forced the ESF into a costly buyout of his contract in August 1992 - reputedly for $4.35 million. Ms Wisker has distanced herself - in time, attitude and style - from the lingering reputation of her predecessor. ''There has been a very long gap between all that happening and me coming - nearly 15 months,'' she said. ''During that time we've had some new appointments here, education officers who are working very closely with schools. Relationships had improved a lot by the time I came.'' Now, after four months in the job, she has signed the ESF's new two-year contract, which replaced the much-criticised open-ended agreement. Ms Wisker, former deputy director of education at Leicestershire County Council, has a background in history teaching and educational administration. The walls of her new office, at Stubbs Road, are adorned with framed artwork by students from some of the 12 ESF schools. Ms Wisker speaks with enthusiasm about Hong Kong schools and emphasises the importance of canvassing staff and parent opinion, feedback and criticism - a point Mr Millard was accused of neglecting. ''Of course, I knew about the past and I've put a very high priority on building up relationships,'' she said. ''It's very important to meet people and find out what their particular concerns are before you start putting forward ideas for change - if change is necessary. ''I've made it a top priority to go to all our schools and meet as many teachers, principals and parents as possible, and go to PTA [Parent Teacher Association] meetings and school council meetings. ''There was a lot of unfortunate publicity, but we never lost any pupils as a result of it. The number actually kept on growing,'' she said. Hong Kong is the first overseas posting for Ms Wisker, but the career educator examined schools in the United States, Europe and China before catching the ''Eastern bug'' on a trip to Hong Kong. ''ESF has grown enormously in a very short period of time,'' she said. Student numbers have more than tripled to 9,500 in 15 years and demand for primary places at Kowloon schools has forced potential pupils on to a waiting list. ''I think I've taken over at a time when it's becoming significantly different . . . an increasing number of our students are now from an Asian background, rather than Australian or British,'' Ms Wisker said. ''In King George V school, for example, the school population is now 69 per cent Asian. ''It will be a very careful balancing act, because we still have expatriate parents who have to go back to England or Australia and want their children to fit back into those systems. ''At the same time, we've to recognise we have a growing Asian student base who are looking toward the future in China, as Hong Kong will be a part of China.'' The demand for an ESF-style education is growing as educated parents want their children versed in English, the international language of shipping, banking, commerce and professions, Ms Wisker says. ''There is an increasing number of Chinese coming back to Hong Kong, having been in Canada or Australia getting their residency qualifications, and they want their children in a system where English is the medium of instruction,'' she said. ''They can't fit into local schools because they can't cope with Chinese as the language of instruction. ''So the student population really is becoming international.'' Ms Wisker has already gained a certain popularity with parents, teachers and fellow ESF executives. Some parents and teachers say they have diverted their attention from the ESF because the foundation and its schools are running smoothly and earning high praise from international moderators. ESF chairman Ken Woodhouse, while refusing to discuss the buyout of Mr Millard's contract, is pleased with his successor. ''Two years ago, there was a lot of trouble, now the trouble is gone,'' he said. ''The reports I've had from staff, councillors and a large number of people are that they're happy with Jennifer Wisker.'' Former executive board member and parent Paul Holmes, who unsuccessfully challenged for the ESF chairmanship at the height of the turmoil, recently relinquished his only remaining ESF role as chairman of the Joint Council of Parent Teacher Associations. Mr Holmes was a member of the board which selected Ms Wisker as the new secretary. ''We've gone through a period of steady improvement,'' he said. ''The past is the past and I'm only prepared to look at the future.''