Old school gets new shine

Thanisile Mpofu and Praise Pakama, the head boy and head girl, raised the South African and school flags.

Thornton Road Primary School went from the threat of imminent closure to a flourishing institution within four years, thanks to a group of committed staff and the school governing body (SGB).

On Saturday March 24, a relaunch was held for the school, which is in its 78th year, in celebration of achieving what might have seemed impossible to many – to keep its doors open.

Four years ago a decision was made by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to close the school as pupil enrolment numbers were less than 200, and the building was in a dilapidated state. The WCED was of the opinion that it would be too expensive to upgrade the building, and it was decided to merge it with Belthorn Primary School.

Acting principal, Mogamat Noor Luddy, would not accept that though, and he, with the rest of the staff and the SGB, set out on a plan to save their school. They worked with former WCED director for Metro Central Education District, Dr Jeffrey Martin, to put the plan in place and to implement it. Part of the plan involved collaborating with another school, teacher development training, and forming partnerships with non-government organisations (NGOs) and businesses.

Speaking at the event, current WCED director for Metro Central Education District, Sanette Nowers, said she was proud of the school’s achievements.

“This is the first time in my life that I attend a relaunch. This is not my first visit to the school. I have been here before, but not for positive reasons. When there were plans to close the school, it was for obvious reasons – it was small in numbers and the building was dilapidated. Then something happened. The acting principal took over the reigns and he has such a passion for this school. They brought in wonderful NGOs. The school went from having less than 200 pupils to now almost having 500 pupils. I have goosebumps. Well done to Thornton Road Primary. I am so proud of you,” Ms Nowers said.

The school’s motto, Aim High, was interrogated by Dr Martin during his speech. He said this was among the strategy when they worked on the plan to save the school.

“What does Aim High imply? It is about living a culture of excellence, being a source of innovation and inspiration, and asking what the school’s intention was. Out of the imminent closure and merging, growth came by strengthening cultural intelligence, rebranding the school and to put objectives and strategies in place. To the principal and SGB – thank you very much,” Dr Martin said.

Among the partnerships formed, was that with Rustenburg Girls’ Junior School. The partnership, according Rustenburg Girls’ Junior School’s principal, Di Berry, was enriching for both schools.

“Thornton Road Primary was run-down and shoddy and quite sad to see. I’m a firm believer that children learn and thrive in a good environment. We all need to work together for the betterment of South Africa and what better way than the education of our future leaders?

“The partnership was enriching for both schools. Teachers shared ideas and good practice, and we did art lessons, class visits, the children played soccer together and went on outings. It brought children from different walks of life together. Today is about the celebration of determination and hope. It was because of Mr Luddy and SGB chairperson, Raymond Kruger’s incredible efforts that the numbers grew at the school. A huge thank you to the staff and SGB, and Mr Luddy. It was fun to work with you on some of our projects. I have no doubt that Thornton Road Primary will go from strength to strength,” Ms Berry said.

Mr Luddy said he always encourages his pupils to reach for the stars, which is why the school’s motto is Aim High. “It does not matter where our pupils come from, it matters where they will end up in life. We have a culture of high expectations in pupils and staff alike and it is our sincere goal that each of our pupils graduate with a plan for the future and with skills necessary to be successful in anything they do. I deem it an honour to be associated with such an illustrious institution,” Mr Luddy added.

Mr Kruger told the audience that although the school will be 78 years old on Sunday April 1, the building is more than 100 years old, as it was used for something else.

“In 2012, we got a donation of paint. Our caretakers painted the school and immediately people showed an interest in our school. We used to have 186 pupils and our academic results were not good. I also had to announce to the school that our principal at the time, passed away. Everything was negative and that was the turning point for me. We then embarked on a plan to keep the school open.

“In 2015, we did staff development, and not even a year later, our numbers increased, our academic results increased. The WCED granted permission for the renovations to take place. We now boast with new roofs across the school building, new ceilings, the white boards were replaced, the school was painted, tiled, the toilets were upgraded and the tarmac was resurfaced.

“In 2016 we started a friendship and partnership with Rustenburg Girls’ Junior School. We now have 488 pupils – we gained 253 pupils in three years and added six additional classes. The plan is to reach the school’s capacity of 560 pupils by the year 2020,” Mr Kruger said.