Principal hailed for turning school around

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cape Town - Zola Pahlana inherited a school with dilapidated buildings and teachers who didn't pitch for class. Seven years later Pahlana is a proud principal of a school with an 80 percent matric pass rate.

Last year, Gugulethu's ID Mkhize Senior Secondary School achieved the second highest improvement in matric results in the Western Cape. The school registered a leap of 18 percent from 62 percent in 2008 to 80 percent in 2009.

This comes at a time when the province's matric pass rate dropped by 2.7 percent to 75.7 percent.

MEC for Education, Donald Grant, who visited the school today as it kicked off the new term, applauded the progress made by Pahlana and his staff.

"There's organisation, discipline, targets," he said, adding that Pahlana's model should be replicated in the 400 other struggling schools in the province.

Last week, Grant presented Pahlana with an award for academic excellence and R20 000 which the principal aims to use to buy equipment and help teachers improve their skills.

The increase in the pass rate has also motivated pupils at the school to do better.

"It gives us so much courage, that we (should) be serious on our side," said Buhle Delo, 16, who started her matric year today.

Delo's parents are both unemployed and no one in her family has a matric.

But Delo doesn't know the state Pahlana found ID Mkhize in back in 2003.

"It was very depressing," said Pahlana.

He had just come from serving as principal at a nearby school, but having taught at ID Mkhize before, he was asked to return as principal.

Even so, many discouraged him from taking the position, saying he would not manage, but Pahlana felt otherwise.

Being from Gugulethu he felt he had "a moral obligation" towards giving back to the community by taking the post.

In the beginning it wasn't easy and he had to dismiss certain teachers that were repeatedly absent from classrooms or failing to perform.

"You always get elements that thrive in chaos," he said, explaining that learners became more motivated after non-performing teachers were removed and after he took a more hardline approach on discipline with staff.

When Pahlana arrived at his post, the school was in a state of disrepair - ceilings had collapsed in some classrooms, while in others window panes were missing.

To make matters worse he found there was no budget to fix the school.

"No one seemed to know what was in the coffers," said Pahlana, who has since put in place proper budget systems for the school.

He also tackled vandalism and security concerns by removing two shipping containers that were attracting criminal elements, and by placing metal cages over windows to ensure panes weren't destroyed.

His latest challenge is to get pupils to stop littering around the school grounds.

"I believe you need to be firm when it comes to discipline," he said.