As schools on the Cape Flats grapple with many socio-economic challenges, one Mitchell’s Plain school is not allowing negative circumstances to hinder its success. With passion, determination and a realistic turn-around strategy, Spine Road High School has become one of the most sought-after schools in the greater Mitchells Plain area.
From a 90-something Matric pass rate over the past few years, the school achieved a 100% matric pass rate in 2014, which principal Riyaad Najaar puts down to hard work and committment from pupils, but especially teachers.
With educators facing a myriad of difficulties in today’s times, Najaar says he has the privilege of working with teachers who are united, goal driven and who value excellence above everything else. These ideals rubs off on the pupils and contribute to their overall success not only at a high school level, but for the rest of their education career as well.
“Our teachers and pupils hardly ever stay absent. There is an ethos of work, commitment and pride on the school. Our children are happy here. They are happy to be part of an institution that has changed their lives. It has changed my life,” Najaar says.
This is apparent the moment you walk into the school. The interaction between educators and learners is in stark contrast to many other public schools – it’s more than just a teacher-student relationship, but a genuine care for their well being. And its clear that learners have the utmost respect and appreciation for their teachers too.
The school’s turnaround strategy places the importance on the ‘smaller things’. When learners enter the school gates, they are required to be dressed in full school uniform, including blazers. Strict adherence to the rules and code of conduct of the school is is entrenched in learners from Grade 8. Najaar believes respect and discpline starts with appearance.
To avoid the challenges of dealing with deviant learners or those with behavioural problems, the school has a gruelling application process, in which all entrants are screened. Only learners who have displayed model behaviour and have a strong academic background are chosen.
“We have a waiting list of over 1400 applicants. And some may say our selection process is somewhat unfair but we are open to suggestions to ensure we are as fair as possible,” concedes Najaar.
With 300 Matric students for the year 2015, the pressure to achieve outstanding results like the class of 2014 is imnmense. Najaar said teachers are working around the clock to ensure that pupils feel supported, motivated and prepared for the last year of their tertiary schooling careers.
To achieve these results, their focus at the school begins on a foundation level. By implementing math and science focused programs to improve the pupils abilities in those respective areas is a fundamental aspect to teaching at Spine Road High.
“We currently offer prospective students a mathematical test during the application process for grade eight, to ensure that the learner is able to manage the level of teaching and learning at this institution,” Najaar explained.
All grade eight students are required to participate in a Shakespearian production that is being managed by highly trained professional teachers,.
“We have the best teachers in the province. They are determined to make a positive impact on the lives of our kids. No teacher ever arrives late to school in the morning. They are here on time and ensure that they are ready for the day’s lessons. Often they give more than their required hours for those pupils who are in need of some extra help,” Najaar said.
“Passing matric is a result of hard work that begins from the moment the student begins his or her education at Spine Road.”
Najaar jokingly added that they have not yet achieved anything as a high school in Mitchells Plain, even when its pupils are achieving better results than those from more affluent schools.
“Only when we are recognised as one of the best schools in the country or the top school in SA, will we believe we have achieved greatness. That is our one true goal,” Najaar shrugged.
Two students, Zaidah Hussien and Caleb Kay, collectively agreed that the pressure on the Spine Road High Matric class is definitely on their list of stresses for this year.
“Our parents and families are all supporting us. This is really going to be a pressure filled few months as all the new matric students want to make both our school, families and community proud,” Hussien said.
Kay on the other hand said his expectations for his last school year is extremely high.
“My school has never let us down. They have always ensured that we are well prepared for whatever the curriculum has to offer. I hope to study accounting at the University of Stellenbosch next year. Last year, our school managed to achieve the highest pass percentage in accounting in the entire province. So this year, we are aiming for higher,” Kay added.
Najaar concluded that most of the 2014 matric class have now gone on to complete their tertiary education in medicine and accounting to name a few.
“Just seeing our students’ success and the impact we have had on that student’s life, through our teaching, is more rewarding than any payment at the end of the month.” VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)