New principals in the swing of things

2010-05-27 00:00

David Arguile, Headmaster, St. Anne's Diocesan College

PRIOR to this position, David Arguile was head of Kingswood College in Grahamstown from 2003. He was also the principal of Pinelands High School in Cape Town from 1997 to 2002. Before that, he taught at schools in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

Arguile’s professional involvement in education has been extensive, including holding senior positions in the Independent Schools’ Association of Southern Africa (Isasa), the Southern African Heads of Independent Schools’ Association (Sahisa) and the former SA Teachers’ Association and the National Union of Educators. Arguile has also served as a principals’ representative on the Independent Examinations Board (IEB).

Petra Wiesinger, Headmistress, St John's Junior School

PIETERMARITZBURG-BORN Petra Wiesinger lived in the city for the first few years of her life before her family moved to Wartburg. She attended the Wartburg Kirchdorf Primary and High School. She did her tertiary education at the Natal Training College and completed her studies at Edgewood College of Education. She found it “a little strange” to then go back to Wartburg Kirchdorf Primary as a teacher on the staff with teachers who had taught her. She taught there for six years before moving to St Mary’s DSG, Kloof. There she spent what she calls 14 “happy and fulfilling years”. In December 2009, she moved to Pietermaritzburg to take up her post at St John’s in January this year.

Wiesinger’s areas of interest and further education studies are teaching gifted children, mentoring and guidance. She was part of a study group that attended a 10-day study seminar/conference in Norway to learn more about “Enhancing the Quality of Teacher Education through University and School Partnership”.

She loves travelling and Russia tops her list as the most interesting country she has visited. She enjoys spending time outdoors, with family and friends and reading. She hopes that swinging a golf club will be her next hobby.

Gavin Thomson, Headmaster, Hilton College

A PRODUCT of the Eastern Cape, Gavin Thomson matriculated as the headboy of Victoria Park School in Port Elizabeth and was awarded a sports bursary to the University of Port Elizabeth from where he graduated with a BA in psychology and geography, and a teaching diploma. After national service, which included training as an infantry officer, Thomson joined the staff at Westering High School where he taught for a number of years, establishing a reputation as an innovative teacher with an exceptional rapport with adolescents. He rose to the positions of head of geography and head of student affairs. In 2000 he moved with his family to Hilton College where he served as a housemaster, prior to being appointed director of academic administration in 2008. He is Hilton’s 15th headmaster.

An accomplished hockey player himself, Thomson’s career as a schoolmaster has been accompanied by considerable success as a hockey coach. An erstwhile coach of both the Eastern Province Women’s team and the South African Women’s U21 team, his tenure as first XI coach at Hilton College has seen Hilton resume its status as one of the premier hockey-playing schools in the country.

QUESTION: How have your first few months been at the helm of the day-to-day running of the school?


DAVID ARGUILE (DA): Very busy and most enjoyable. Having occupied a less hands-on position at my previous school where I was in a rector-CEO position overseeing a senior and junior school, I have enjoyed being back in a more conventional role. My deputies and business manager are, however, integral to the day-to-day functioning of St Anne’s.

PETRA WIESINGER (PW): The first term flew by. I have a very supportive secretary and team of teachers to assist with the day-to- day running of the school. The parent body is supportive and the girls are enthusiastic and happy.

GAVIN THOMPSON (GT): Hilton College is a multidimensional school of many complexities given that it is a full-boarding establishment in a rural setting. Coupled with a parent body that expects excellence in everything we strive for, this means that we have to provide a top- quality product and service. These demands cannot be met by one person alone and at Hilton we are fortunate to have many high-calibre staff members who produce outstanding service to the community within which we work.


QWhat would you say are the shortfalls of education in the country currently and how do we overcome them?

PW: I am not able to comment on state schools as I have been involved in private school education for the past 14 years. I do feel, however, that our country is in dire need of dedicated and qualified teachers with strong morals and values. Teachers are dealing more and more with children who need counselling as they have experienced trauma, loss or lack parental supervision. Good infrastructure and sound management are also needed.


Q Teachers now deal with a different breed of children to those in the past. Do teachers need to reinvent their craft to be better suited for this generation and how are you encouraging this among your teachers?

GT: There is no doubt that our children and pupils live in a highly technological world with a number of associated distractions and dangers that put them at risk.

For staff who matured and were educated in an apartheid era of intimidation, media control and misinformation, this generation of children is a world removed from the reality in which they grew up.

Staying at the forefront of education means a constant reinvention by teachers of their skills, approach to life and manner in which they engage their pupils. Teachers who will succeed in the future are those who embrace technology, are inspirational via their eagerness to learn new skills and who are role models of integrity for their pupils.


QState schools have admitted to battling to get parents to pay school fees. Has recession-related nonpayment of fees affected private schools?

DA: I cannot speak on behalf of other schools. The impact on St Anne’s has fortunately been minimal. Applications for enrolment into Grade 8 for 2011 is in fact at a record level.


QThe issue of transformation is an on-going national discussion and the Ministry of Higher Education and Training held a seminar with its stakeholders over this same issue. How transformed is your school?

PW: We recognise the need to embrace transformation, which is linked to the application of girls as well as teachers whom we receive.


QCorporal punishment is illegal in terms of the new Children’s Act. What ultimate sanctions do you impose to maintain discipline?

GT: Corporal punishment, apart from being illegal, became outmoded in dealing with today’s adolescents years ago. This has meant that dealing with discipline issues has had to be remodelled accordingly. We adopt a two-pronged approach in firstly, being preventative and putting into place interventions that guide pupils in the accepted behaviour. Secondly, we have a clear set of sanctions applicable for various misdemeanours. With this in mind we also engage counsellors, psychologists, nursing staff, tutors and the chaplain to provide the necessary daily care and guidance.

Two aspects that are critical in the disciplinary process are the need to deal with each pupil as an individual and then to ensure a clear and fair process. Ultimately though, dependant on the nature of the situation, expulsion is the final sanction.


QWhat currently warrants as an expellable offence in your school?

DA: A pupil can be expelled as a result of a single serious incident or after an accumulation of less serious misdemeanors. Expulsion is normally a last resort and occurs only after due process has been observed.


Q Bullying is another issue in schools, especially boys’ schools where initiation and fagging were a tradition. Do you have a code of conduct on this issue and how do you monitor bullying?

GT: Fagging, bullying and initiation are not acceptable practices at Hilton College and we have numerous structures in place to expose these practices. There is a clear code of conduct regarding these practices and specific sanctions are in place. We are doing much research and work on peer bullying in the junior grades at the moment and are in the process of forming an alliance with a prep school in compiling a strategy that will place interventions in place to deal more effectively with bullying.


Q Do you have a policy on cellphones?

PW: We have a “no cellphone policy” in the junior school. Should the girls need to contact their parents or vice versa, they do this through the school secretary. We also feel that it is important to educate the girls about social networking sites before they start using them.


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