How superprincipals and teachers help matrics soar

2015-01-11 15:00

A streetwise principal and a merry band of committed teachers are all that’s needed to catapult a failing rural school with no facilities into one with a 100% matric pass rate.

So says Ntombizodwa Ntandane, principal of Sikhwahlane Secondary School in Mzinti village, Mpumalanga, whose matrics all passed, even though they didn’t have access to a library or laboratory.

Of the school’s 114 matrics, 62 achieved university entrance passes, 37 got diplomas and the remaining five graduated with certificates.

Ntandane says hard work is the only secret to success.

“Many people marvel when schools in rural areas produce top-quality results, but we don’t. It’s what we do here. For us, it’s the other way around – we are surprised if we don’t do well.”

While teachers and pupils in other schools look forward to weekends and holidays, at Sikhwahlani there is no such thing.

“We have Saturday, Sunday and winter classes – and these extra lessons are strictly monitored. We plan for the year and monitor progress. We aren’t surprised when they perform well; this is what is expected of them,” Ntandane says.

By March, staff have identified all weak and underperforming students and every matric teacher adopts a few, tending to their emotional, social and academic needs.

“We give them special attention and involve their parents.”

Staff also profile all pupils to determine their strengths and weaknesses.

Hard work is ingrained in the culture of the school, Ntandane says, adding the matrics literally camp there a month before their finals.

“They bath here and we feed them. We can’t risk them being at home as we wouldn’t know if they were studying. Teachers visit them at night for more revision.”

Before they are hired, teachers undergo a rigorous screening process and their backgrounds, habits and attitudes are checked.

“We orientate them to the culture and tell them they will be expected to be in school on weekends and at every school and parents’ meeting. I require total commitment and my heads of department submit quarterly reports.

“I tell them they are welcome to be members of any union, but union activity will not be allowed to disturb the school.”

Ntandane’s boot camp approach clearly works for her, but other methods work equally well. Muziwenhlanhla Mkhwanazi, principal of Thongwana Senior Secondary in KwaMhlabuyalingana in northern KwaZulu-Natal, gives his teachers “total freedom”.

This approach has been successful – all but one of his rural school’s matric pupils passed their exams.

“I give my teachers total freedom. They can take a few days’ leave to see a girlfriend or attend union meetings or do whatever they want to do. But they know I’m a stern disciplinarian and I demand commitment in return for the freedoms I allow them.”

Mkhwanazi says: “We have managed to get distinctions out of dunderheads and hopeless pupils who failed dismally in other schools. The school’s motto is simple: ‘We change people’.”

Of their 91 matrics, 31 obtained university entrance passes, 55 qualified for diplomas and five for certificates. There were a total of 59 distinctions.

During the first week of school each year, Mkhwanazi calls a “very serious meeting” with all matrics and teachers. “We discuss what is expected of everyone. The following week, I fork out my own money and throw a party for the teachers. We eat and drink together and I tell them we will win together because we are a winning team.”

Before the June trial exams and matric finals, Mkhwanazi throws a party for all matrics and exhorts them to work hard.

“We party and laugh together and address each other using our nicknames. But I tell them exactly what I want from them. I spend so much time with them – weekends, holidays, even weekday nights – teaching them. But they also know I don’t compromise on discipline.”

For him, it’s critical to lead by example.

“You can call me a shepherd ... a misstep on my part will screw up everything and I, as the leader, will be accountable.”

Pheello Kumalo, principal of the Sekgutlong Senior Secondary School in QwaQwa, Free State, says a school’s results are only as good as its principal and teachers.

“We wouldn’t have gotten a 100% pass rate if we didn’t have good leadership. The school managed 61 bachelors’ passes, 48 diplomas and five certificates.” The school scored 36 distinctions and Moloi Maleke was declared the province’s top pupil in the quintile.

The school’s success came in the wake of a host of revision programmes, including Saturday classes, winter and summer schools and various group exercises.

While teachers are unionised, he says they all want the best for the no-fee school.

“It would be nice to have libraries, internet access and laboratories, but life doesn’t stop because we don’t have them.”

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