Putting heads together to help schools

Retired principal Bruce Probyn talking about the Principals Academy.

With a love of teaching running through their veins, retirement does not come easily to some school principals.

Six retired principals decided to do something about that when they joined up with a prominent Bishopscourt businessman to overhaul disadvantaged schools from the head down.

Rick Haw, a co-founder of Haw & Inglis, said doing an MBA at UCT’s Graduate School of Business had not only changed the way he approached his business, but also made him realise that some of the management skills he’d acquired could be worked into the schooling system. He was on the Herschel Girls’ School Council and met Bruce Probyn who was the principal at the time.

They decided to start the Principals’ Academy together with Alan Clarke, the former head of Westerford, when Mr Probyn retired from Herschel.

They approached Metro South, a district in the Western Cape Education Department, and from there school principals started applying and the Principals’ Academy Trust was born.

Now, five years later, the six retired principals work with principals in 113 Western Cape schools, including Athlone, Grassy Park, Gugulethu, Hout Bay, Khayelitsha, Kraaifontein, Manenberg, Masiphumelele, Mfuleni, Mitchell’s Plain, Philippi, and Retreat.

Further afield, they travel to schools in the winelands, up the West Coast and into the Overberg.

Speaking from his Constantia home, Mr Probyn said : “For decades we have been doing the same thing and education has changed little.”

Apart from Mr Probyn and Mr Clarke, the other former principals are Clive Barham of Kirstenhof Primary, Keith Richardson of Wynberg Boys’ High, Midge Hilton-Green of Bishops Prep and Crystal House and Ann van Zyl of Oprah Winfrey Academy. They have become mentors and coaches to principals in disadvantaged communities.

“We don’t work with children, that’s not sustainable,” said Mr Probyn. “Research on school effectiveness has shown that school leadership and teaching quality are the two factors that have the greatest impact on learner performance. That’s why we’ve chosen to focus our efforts primarily on improving the leadership and management competencies of the principals of these schools.”

The principals spend the first year studying at the Graduate School of Business during school holidays.

“We then ask principals what they want to do to become a school of excellence. With that goal and vision target they do that with our help, once or twice a week, one on one,” said Mr Haw.

“We’ve seen a steady improvement in our schools’ matric results as well as the systemic results. But we’re not only working to improve the results but also the quality of the pass ensuring that the pupils are marketable when leaving school. We are also assisting the principals to curb the drop-out rate in grades.”

Mr Probyn said they had also noticed a change in the culture – “the way pupils and parents see the role the school plays in their lives” – of many of the schools they were helping, which made tackling other issues that much easier.

Gavin Elliot, the principal of Spine View Primary in Mitchell’s Plain, joined the Principals Academy in 2012. He said no actual learning could take place until socio-economic conditions were dealt with.

“I’m able to influence 950 children’s lives and they go into their community and influence many people. And so that they can come to school with a smile which is something they don’t have at home. So to make a difference on one principal has far reaching effects. That is why it has so much value.”

Nokazola Malgas, principal of Manyano High School in Khayelitsha, also joined the academy in 2012. “As principal of a school that was under performing it was a worrying factor for me. Until we got a mentor who assisted me, especially with analysing structures and the quality of work and the quality of the tests and results,” said Ms Malgas.

Manono Makhaphela, principal of Luhlaza Secondary in Khayelitsha said the Graduate School of Business and Principals’ Academy had motivated him to turn his school into a centre of excellence in that community, despite poverty and other social conditions.

The academy also provides specialist subject support for teachers in the foundation phase as well as in primary school mathematics and language.

They also provide workshops on topics including stress, discipline, bullying and the differences of teaching boys and girls.

The retired principals’ work is voluntary but as an NPO they rely on donor funding.

For more information contact Joanne Haw at 021 286 0009 or visit www.principalsacademy.ac.za