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School principal and business leader galvanise parents, fuelling change in Eastern Cape school

In September 2020, Vernecia Meyer, Principal of Malmaison Primary in Sundays River Valley, Eastern Cape, was introduced to Marius Jurgens, the production director of SOGA Organic. During the year-long Partners for Possibility programme run by Citizen Leader Lab (formerly Symphonia for South Africa), they forged a partnership that became the catalyst for a remarkable transformation at the school.

Citizen Leader Lab is a leadership development organisation with a vision of leadership that creates a better future for all. The organisation offers leadership development programmes to support the development of conscious and empowered leadership in the public sector, and creates opportunities for citizens to work together to address the challenges of our country and support the upliftment of all our communities. The organisation is working to deepen its impact in the education sector and to extend its impact to other public sectors.

During their 12-month journey, both Meyer and Jurgens experienced significant growth as leaders. A desire to build on this led them to join the follow-on programme School for Community. In this new programme launched by Citizen Leader Lab in 2022, a principal and business leader continue building their leadership capabilities with the support of skilled facilitators while implementing project(s) of their choice to improve a school. However, during a second year together they focus particularly on mobilising support for the school from parents and community members and placing the school at the centre of community.

For Meyer, the School for Community programme was an opportunity to address one of Malmaison’s long-standing challenges: a lack of parental involvement. Meyer has always maintained that quality, holistic education requires the active participation of parents, as they play a vital role in the well-being and development of their children.

“To achieve this, we needed active participation and harmony between staff members, learners and the parents. These are the components that make up what I refer to as my ‘three-legged pot’,” shared Meyer.

The School for Community programme offered Meyer the opportunity to successfully host workshops with parents. By using innovative strategies such as circle discussions, small group interactions and agenda-free meetings, Meyer was able to make the parents and community feel comfortable, valued and, most importantly, heard. She attributed the success of these workshops to both the strategies she learned from the Citizen Leader Lab team and the support she received from Jurgens.

“My relationships with staff members, parents and community members deepened significantly through these workshops. I gained the confidence to engage parents on a new level,” said Meyer.

Prior to Meyer’s involvement in Citizen Leader Lab’s school leadership development programmes, only around 15% of parents were actively engaging with the school. However, by the end of the School for Community programme, she estimated that around 55% were actively engaging.

A parent, who attended the workshops, noted this marked increase in parental involvement at the school.

“I can now see the parents co-operate. When there are things like sports, the parents are more involved. They are eager to ask, ‘Teacher, how can I help?’ ‘’

Looking ahead, Meyer and Jurgens are firmly committed to the ongoing development of Malmaison. This includes expanding the school’s infrastructure, establishing a vegetable garden with a water supply system and continuing to nurture community engagement through creative activities such as singing, dancing and art.

Implementation of the School for Community programme in the Sunday Rivers valley would not have been possible without the partnership between Citizen Leader Lab, the SRCC Foundation and the Co-op Community Trust.

Citizen Leader Lab offers various opportunities for you to support a school and its surrounding community. Email to start your journey as a Citizen Leader today!