Sunlands Primary School in Kenwyn has said farewell to long-serving principal Alta van Heerden who retired at the end of April.
Ms Van Heerden, from Plumstead, served 45 years at the school. She went through the ranks, teaching Grades 3, 4, 6 and 7, as well as physical education, before moving into leadership positions and the principal’s post, which she held for 24 years.
“The wonderful parents and staff support, as well as my desire to see the Sunlands children grow and become sought after at high schools and well-adjusted adults, who could contribute positively to society, has kept me at Sunlands,” she said.
“I would like to think that I have made a difference in the lives of some families, teachers, principals and children, and I’m so grateful that I had the privilege of touching their lives.”
The challenges of bureaucracy and limited resources were part of the job, but Covid-19 came with its own unique set of pressures.
“Working remotely through the pandemic was a huge challenge to start off with,” she said. “It, however, revealed our adaptability and tenacity to serve our community and support the learning of our children.”
At the start of lockdown, very few teachers had known their way around Google Classroom, but they had learnt quickly from each other so they could continue to teacher their pupils, she said.
“They became innovative and drew strength from one another by meeting regularly online, planning together.”
She thanked the “Sunlands family” for the trust they had placed in her and for giving her the chance to be “part of the growth of your children”. And she told her colleagues that they were “busy with nation building” and should prioritise the needs of children.
“Don’t let the administrative burden of the job rob you of the joy of accompanying children into adulthood.”
Sunlands Primary school psychologist Juliette Grant said Ms Van Heerden had the ability to find time for anyone even if she had a busy schedule.
“She made time to speak to every parent who wanted to meet, mentored every new teacher that joined the staff and made sure to connect with every teacher, specialist, administrator and estate staff.”
She had a way of bringing out the best in people and helped them strive for excellence in their work, she said.
Teacher Linsey Alexander said Ms van Heerden was an excellent leader who had pushed staff and pupils to reach their full potential.
“She is also a true and exemplary role model, to which we can look up to,” she said.
Ms Van Heerden plans to continue in her role as president of the International Confederation of Principals and spend more time with her family and church.
“I am a grandmother and will enjoy more time with my three grandchildren and I am involved in my church and there are many doors opening for me at the moment,” she said.
Michelle Rhode took over as Sunlands Primary principal at the beginning of May.