I was the circuit manager for Stellenbosch when a new building was constructed for Kayamandi High School. After principal Maphelo Ntshanga and his pupils had moved, hundreds of pupils were temporarily accommodated in the old building. And thus, Makupula High School was born. Charles Ndlebe, then deputy head of Kayamandi, was appointed as principal.
Today it is a school of excellence with subjects such as accounting, computer studies, economics and tourism. Despite the pandemic, Makupula achieved a pass rate of 94% in 2020 – a repetition of its 2019 results. Devoted teachers, motivated pupils, supportive parents and a dynamic head have shown that it is not the building but what happens inside the school that counts. This dynamic principal has now retired. But not all principals who retire reach retirement age like Ndlebe.
Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, many schools, especially those in poor communities, face challenges that place extreme pressure on principals. It involves financial crises, increased administrative responsibilities and being in a class full time. A Stellenbosch school could not pay its staff in governing body posts last month. Fortunately, the NGO I am involved with could help. The alternative, letting teachers go, would lead to great disruption. However, this was a one-off arrangement.
Partners for Possibility offers answers to these challenges. This national, multidisciplinary teaching initiative, based on the National Development Plan, currently supports more than 2,000 school principals countrywide and has been honoured by President Cyril Ramaphosa. In cooperation with education authorities, the NGO acts as facilitator between the school and the private sector. Partnerships are negotiated with business leaders who provide guidance to principals on financial planning and management. Principals are not trained in finance but are expected to make financial decisions about millions of rand.
There are many success stories. One of them is Pieter Langeveld Primary School in Stellenbosch. After his appointment as head, Shafiek Jacobs acquired second-hand sewing machines with the help of Partners for Possibility and a business leader. Instead of waiting for help, parents got involved with their children’s education by making masks themselves – a classic example of empowerment.
Another three Stellenbosch principals received the E-Bosch award: Karin Venter (Kylemore Secondary), Anthea Williams (Dorothea Special School) and Ronald Frans of Klapmuts Primary. Thanks to the skills they acquired during the Partners for Possibility programme, and the multidisciplinary support network they could depend on, these principals tackled the challenges successfully. Frans, who also received the Nelson Mandela Lifetime Award for exceptional leadership, retired recently.
Covid-19 has once again placed the focus on the critical role that leaders play who can manage a school effectively in these uncertain times. It requires visionary principals with drive. A new generation of principals has been pushed to the forefront in haste and thrown in at the deep end. They need support and guidance urgently. That is why it makes sense that NGOs like Partners for Possibility, the private sector and universities take hands with the Education Department in our search for sustainable solutions.
True leadership is a team effort. Together we can beat the pandemic. DM