Principal meets challenges with award-winning ideas

2014-07-30 00:00

LEADERSHIP and creativity — a Phoenix primary school principal has both and the awards to prove it.

In this year’s KwaZulu-Natal Premier’s Service Excellence Awards, Rabichand ­Brijlal Soman, principal of Brookdale Primary School, won in two categories: Best Public Service Creative and Innovator and Best Public Service Leader in the Field of Education.

“We have changed the school ethos from being a so-called Indian school to being a South African school,” said ­Soman.

This transformation paralleled the school’s growth from 1998 when Soman joined as principal, when the school had 442 pupils.

“By 2000 there were 1 100 pupils. Since then, it has grown continuously. We now have 2 189 pupils.”

Many of them come from nearby Amoati informal settlement, as well as the municipal transitional housing community adjacent to the school. Over 400 pupils are from child-headed households.

Despite serving a poor community, Brookdale Primary School is ranked in Quintile 5 denoting the least poor public schools — “it’s because we have the infrastructure” said Soman. This includes tarred road access, electricity, water and classrooms.

As a Quintile 5 school, Brookdale is expected to supplement the school’s annual budget of just over R300 000 by charging fees. The fees for Brookdale Primary School are R10 a month.

“Some people can only pay R2,” said Soman.

And so Soman’s creative and innovative skills come into play — whether it’s building new classrooms (the school has now built 29 out of its total of 52) or creating a vegetable garden to supplement its nutrition programme.

Plus Brookdale seeds itself with new teachers. Matriculants from the local community return to teach Grade R and enter a development programme while being mentored by older teachers.

“It’s working fantastically,” said Soman. “Our staff are the young South Africa — a fantastic blend of black and Indian South Africans.”

Brookdale also runs a comprehensive remedial programme that sees pupils who arrive mid-year catch up two grades by the end of it — a reflection of Brookdale’s academic emphasis.

“No activity other than teaching takes place in teaching time,” said Soman. “And there is an additional hour of teaching on Tuesdays.”

There are 32 innovations currently under way at Brookdale — “some are crazy and high risk, but you try them out and find what works.

“The culture of the school sees people from the community working here,” said Soman. “They are change-agents for their community. We must take ownership of South Africa.”

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

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