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From Problems to Possibilities: Midrand School Revamped through Collaboration

The principal of Noordwyk Secondary, Alex Tau, and Client Service Executive of retail solutions company Smollan, Rowland Solomons, refer to themselves as twins! What brought them so close? Their shared mission to transform Noordwyk Secondary.

Located in Midrand, Gauteng, the secondary school faces enormous challenges: Harsh socio-economic conditions, poor academic performance, ill-discipline among the learners and low staff morale all negatively impact teaching and learning.

To turn this around, Tau and Solomons were partnered on an award-winning leadership development programme for school principals delivered by Citizen Leader Lab. Newly acquired skills were then used to address specific challenges at this under-resourced school over a 12-month period.

Tau says that attending Citizen Leader Lab’s workshops, networking and coaching sessions prompted him to look beyond the confines of the school for ways to improve stakeholder engagement.

‘‘Through a workshop aimed at building and sustaining community, I became aware of community dynamics, and this made me realise that the community is more powerful than an intelligent leader. I decentralised power, instead of prescribing what needs to be done. I posed challenges to the school’s stakeholders, and we found ways to move forward.  This really works because they now volunteer their time willingly,’’ Tau said.

After identifying the soft skills gap among the staff and learners, the pair set out to develop a discernible school culture, and with the help of the School Governing Body (SGB), School Management Team (SMT) and the learners, formulated a set of school values. Team building sessions for the teachers soon followed to address the underlying reasons for their low morale.

Top performing learners in their respective sporting codes and academic areas were then identified to receive awards at ceremonies that now take place every term. A sports tournament, using the concept of sports-based youth development, was also organised to impart valuable life skills. With the involvement of Smollan, a two-day career development event made the Grade 9 learners more aware of the work options available to them after school.

‘’It gave them reasons stay in school. It created a critical link between education and success later in life,’’ says Tau.

Today, Noordwyk thrives academically and in the various codes of sport it offers. In the 2022 Senior Certificate examinations, the school achieved a 94.7% pass rate. Between the 246 matriculants, 150 bachelor’s, 68 diplomas and 15 higher certificate passes were achieved. The school’s soccer team has won trophies around Gauteng, even receiving a donation from the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture in recognition of their accomplishments. The school has also recently held a successful election of its School Governing Body.

‘’I have learned how to be patient and to appreciate the people around me. My staff is more considerate and we have created a lovely environment to learn and teach,” says Tau.

Meanwhile Solomons has become more conscious of the state of public schooling in South Africa and the challenges faced by those tasked with leading schools.

‘’This was a real eye-opener to see and experience the challenges that our schools are facing. I have developed a newfound appreciation for the work principals do.’’

The leadership programme is designed to benefit both the principal and their business partner. To that extent, Solomons says that he learnt to be more collaborative, which in turn has upped the morale of his team at Smollan. ’This process has made me more human. I learned to collaborate more and listen to others,’’ he said.

Your opportunity to become a Citizen Leader begins now!

 Through Citizen Leader Lab’s unique leadership development opportunity, you can work with a principal to address the school’s unique challenges together. Not only will you be making a difference in your community, but you’ll also be honing your leadership skills, building your network and gaining a unique perspective on the challenges facing under-resourced schools.

 If you are in Midrand or its surrounds, contact before 18 May to confirm your participation.