Old boy heads Alex

2008-05-07 00:00

The appointment of old boy Andrew Graaf as Alexandra High School’s new principal has been met with delight from both pupils and staff.

Graaf has been the acting principal since the retirement of his predecessor last year and as deputy principal has been at the forefront of building the school’s ethos into what it is today.

"I don’t think I have ever come across anyone who is more passionate about our school than Mr Graaf. He is driven, extremely dedicated, tireless and a cool person to work with. He takes the time to listen and gives everyone the space and opportunity to grow, which is what I love about him," said Afika Nqetho, the chair of the representative council of learners.

Deputy principal Pam Mathfield said Graaf’s appointment came as no surprise, though they could never be too sure as the final decision lies with the Education Department.

She described him as a modern thinker who does not work from the top down, but is loved by all the staff.

Relating the school’s reaction to the news, delivered at a special assembly, Nqetho described the atmosphere as "crazy".

"We organised the assembly out of our own initiative as the students. And it was amazing. Everyone went crazy and it took a long time for them to settle down," he said.

Graaf believes he has come full circle from his school days as a pupil, of what was then an all white boys’ school, to being principal of what he now calls a real model of tolerance and transformation in a public school.

"I feel humbled, excited, it is daunting and all the adjectives you can think of. It’s strange — in every career you are always looking up and aspiring for bigger positions and now that it’s here I feel overawed by the responsibility, simply because headmastering in public schools is a huge challenge."

Graaf, who has been teaching for 23 years, came back to Pietermaritzburg to assume the role of deputy principal in 1998, after teaching in several schools around Durban.

But he did not initially plan to become a teacher.

He said he discovered teaching by default as a drama student at UCT, pursuing a profession in acting.

Graaf believes he relates well to his pupils because of his "authenticity", as teens can sense phoniness.

He said Alex plays an important role in the city and community in terms of what it can offer and he will continue to build its reputation.

"As an old boy of 1980, I left school when it was very different and I’m encouraged to witness in one career the transformation of our country. I was born and bred in Pietermaritzburg and I’m happy to be able to contribute to my old community. It feels like destiny."

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