At an event at Michaelhouse’s Centenary Centre on Thursday, February 27, eight principals of Midlands schools, along with their Partners for Possibility business partners, presented feedback on the work they and their teams have been doing at the schools over the past year.
The Partners for Possibility (PfP) celebration event was an opportunity to highlight what’s been achieved and for supporters and roleplayers to hear about the results the programme is achieving.
The PfP programme is aimed at co-learning and co-action partnerships between school principals and local business leaders, where, through mutual learning, leadership styles are developed and evolve, needs are identified and action plans drawn up for real improvements required at the schools (many of them infrastructural).
One of the key aspects is to further empower and motivate the teachers at partnering schools.
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Among areas covered over the 12 months have been observation; assessments of needs; development of relationships between principals and partners/sponsors; action and business plans; and real, on-the-ground improvements that have seen better results, improved morale and facilities, and co-learning between principals and partners.
KZN Midlands schools
The KZN Midlands schools that are part of the programme (there are more than 1000 partnerships countrywide) are: Asithuthuke Combined School; Bruntville Primary School; Crystal Springs Primary School; Esipethwini Sendiza; Jabula Combined School; Lions River Primary School; Nottingham Road Primary School; Shea O’Connor Combined School.
Here are some takeaways from the feedback provided:
**Asithuthuke Combined School (Principal Silas Munyoro and Steuart Pennington)
One of the first priorities was to restore dignity through the repairing of crucial infrastructure. Cisterns were repaired and toilets painted. Extensive classroom repairs were undertaken including fixing roofs. Desks were repaired. Repairs were made to the electrics and DV board.
In the second phase, a focus was on restoring learning. Workshops were held with staff, affirming the importance of their roles, allowing space for comments on what they felt was lacking and emphasising the need for accountability and commitment.
The team worked to restore trust in the school among the community. Principal Silas Munyoro and Steuart Pennington reported that enrolment had increased from about 150 pupils to more than 230.
**Bruntville Primary School (Principal Protus Sokhela and Kim McNally)
The school has 1500 pupils, the challenges are huge. Principal Protus Sokhela and PfP partner Kim McNally said the first phase saw three months of observation, which was difficult because they just “wanted to get going”, but was important in terms of the process. Key during this period was identifying issues and needs.
Vision of joy
Next, a vision was created for the school, “A vision of joy”, in which care, respect and joyfulness was to be instilled in every pupil and staff member, to develop pride and unity in the school.
Some of the achievements over the past year were: increased parent involvement; provision of a sick bay; working with a professional planning board; making use of interns and volunteers to assist with aspects like maintenance and increase sporting activity at the school; there are plans for a comprehensive breakfast programme; the Yum Yum veggie garden has been established (anything surplus will be sold).
**Crystal Springs Primary School (Principal Thembi Ngubane and Charlotte Bracken)
The importance of early education and reading was identified. Focus on English reading in Grades R-3, without compromising isiZulu. A special class was established to identify those struggling with literacy.
Through the partnership, a focus has been placed on igniting the passion of teachers, and motivating the entire school community, from teachers, to pupils and parents. Principal Thembi Ngubane gave an example of how, through better communication and consultation, an under-performing staff member had been made to better understand her role, and was now happy and performing better.
A computer room had been established, bringing digital learning to Crystal Springs, the assembly area was updated and the school had seen greening and a vegetable garden established.
**Esipethwini Sendiza (Principal Thuli Zuma and Anne Mullins)
Some of the projects undertaken at Esipethwini Sendiza included renovations to the hall, chairs provided for the staff room, which the staff greatly appreciated, and fencing, a secure front gate and guard provided. The school is provided with an Edu-helper who teaches computer skills to the youngsters from Grade R-7, while four interns assist with everyday teaching, when teachers are ill and with sports.
Esipethwini Sendiza also has a popular and extremely effective “Reading Grannies” programme, where volunteers read to the younger pupils and assist with English literacy through reading and theatrical roleplay, encouraging the kids to read rather than learn passages “off-off-by-heart”.
Community and staff workshops have been held to identify practical issues that need to be tackled, develop teamwork and a further sense of belonging. It was identified that it was crucial for staff members and school community to take ownership of the school. “There are still lots of projects to be tackled, but the list of done is growing,” said principal Thuli Zuma and Anne Mullins.
**Jabula Combined School (Principal Sibusiso Mabaso and Kate Baynes)
At Jabula, the partners initially focused on building relationships, assessing the true needs of the school and igniting unity and motivation, particularly among staff.
Among the news at the school was an increase in Bachelor’s passes; the re-introduction of Grade R; a donation of 25 computers and ongoing computer workshops under the Michaelhouse Community Partnership. The school is generally, seeing a big push for literacy. In terms of community involvement, it serves as a community centre for a number of local churches.
**Lions River Primary School (Principal Slondile Mhlongo and Simon Francis)
At Lions River, there are now two additional teachers and, as a result, some classes are now smaller in terms of number of pupils. Principal Slondile Mhlongo and Simon Francis identified a need for more parent involvement and a number of events were held to this end. At a successful end-of-year function, tables of 8-10 parents discussed ways to contribute and be more involved in the school community.
Slondile described how her management style had shifted somewhat and she had learnt to be a “better listener”, to better listen to parents and colleagues. Simon explained his desire to get involved and give back and what he had gained from the partnership. While there are many challenges, the pair are confident they will achieve their goals.
**Nottingham Road Primary School (Principal Zelda Schonken and Kari Greene)
In their partnership, Kari Greene and principal Zelda Schonken have targeted better relationships with parents, staff and community. They are “thinking bigger and much better”. Staff have been asked to list one item they would like to see changed at the school, which has helped to identify needs and also make staff members feel valued and trusted as part of the team.
Aims include to add value to pupils, parents, teachers and the broader community and thus build trust and encourage engagement.
A new play area has been designed for the youngsters; computers have been donated; educators have identified that they would like to teach on whiteboards, and this has been identified as a key project (funds to be raised). Future plans include a breakfast feeding programme and to involve past pupils in a project to renovate classrooms.
**Shea O’Connor Combined School (Principal Nicholas Nxumalo and Missy Hughes)
Principal Nicholas Nxumalo said to address the past imbalances it was crucial to involve the business community and partners. “Our school is what it is today because of them.”
The Partners for Possibility programme offered support, “a shoulder to cry on” when the going was tough and strength to tackle the challenges at the school.
The principal acknowledged that his leadership style had evolved slightly, that he was able to “remove barriers” and sit before the teachers to share common goals. He said learning to listen was key for him in his role as principal going forward.
He acknowledged the role played by two Edu-Helpers who were assisting with maths and science and standing in when there were staff shortages.
Principal Nicholas Nxumalo and PfP partner Missy Hughes were excited that enrolments in Maths, Science and English were significantly increased in the senior grades.
Some initiatives and achievements at the school:
Shea O’Connor is a Water Explorer sustainable school; Inter-house athletics event; “Reading Crew” extra reading; parent-teacher meetings held; an end of year function held for staff; 76% overall pass rate, a significant improvement.
**Anyone who would like more information about this programme, and how to get involved or contribute, can contact Karen McKenzie on firstname.lastname@example.org or 083 709 8525. The second round of Midlands schools, Midlands 2, “kicks off” on April 23.