Square Hill Primary School ventures where many fear to tread

Schools serving poor communities need super strong, driven, inspirational leadership and teachers to rise above all the odds stacked against them. Learners in such schools must be immersed in a culture of high expectations, visible in all spheres of school life to help them blossom and succeed. Square Hill Primary school is one of those schools that can be singled out to be such an oasis.

The Senior Management Team of Square Hill Primary School

It is said you can test the popularity of a school by the number of applicants wishing to enroll there. In Square Hill Primary School's case, application for placement  especially in the reception class is always a challenge. In February every year, Lavinia Davis, the Head of the school, e-mails me to inform me when applications open for the Gr R/reception class because on that day I will have to deal with many agitated parents. Our office always receives a flood of complaints because of the clamouring for space at the school. On the day of  Grade R registrations, parents queue from about 4h00, just to secure a spot in front of the line!

Maverick spirit

I admire the maverick spirit that the school leadership team possesses. Take for example, the School Governing Body’s decision to host an overnight camp on the school grounds for the parents and the learners this year. The SGB wanted to use the overnight camp as a fundraiser and as a community-building exercise.This kind of fundraising activity is unheard of in our poor community schools, given the gangsterism, loitering and general fear to be on the streets at night.

Needless to say, the camp was oversubscribed and incident-free. The power of this event has helped to debunk the myth that poor communities cannot engage in such activities and should thus limit themselves to the surf walk or the school carnival – safe, but pretty boring events if you do them ad nauseum.

Lavinia and Grant in the reception area of the school

I was thrilled to hear that the school is starting a digital classroom in 2014, which will be spearheaded by one of the deputy principals, Grant Paulsen. How’s that for moving towards the 21st century classroom?

Building healthy, warm relationships with learners

Another aspect that I admire is that Lavinia is openly proud of her learners. Most times during our conversations she will share the achievements of her learners either in academics, art or music. She makes a point of introducing me to the learners, going beyond the practice of praising learners in their absence. On one occasion I was given a copy of poem written by a Latham Prins, who was 10 years old at the time. This poem is proudly displayed in my office.

Taahirah, the learner who refused to dress up because she was not sure what career she was going to pursue!

Today, when I visited, the Grade 7s had their career day. Lavinia introduced me to Taahirah, a prefect, who refused to dress as a career woman, even if it was just for the exercise. Taahirah, a bubbly soul, confidently explained (via her notes), that she did not dress up because she was too young to know what career she wanted to pursue. She said she thought about becoming an air hostess or a lawyer, but she would rather wait until she had completed her tertiary studies to see what field she really wanted to be in. Now, how 21st century is this thinking? Taahira is right; the job she may end up doing may not exist yet!

These are a few of the features that I admire and respect about  Square Hill Primary school and the way that Lavinia sets the tone as a transformational, instructional leader. The power of the school ‘s success is that all activities are directly aligned to the core values of the school. There is constant discussions and innovations generated by an equally competent, pro-active SMT who help to steer Square Hill Primary school.


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