After 40 years in education, Dave Shaw has packed up his desk for the very last time.
Mr Shaw arrived fresh-faced and keen on the doorstep of Muizenberg High School, as deputy principal, 24 years ago. His last day in the office was Tuesday January 31, this year.
He arrived from Fairmont High in Durbanville. “I wanted to be here, so that I could learn from Don Gibbon, the previous principal,” he said.
And learn, he surely did.
He remembers being astonished at the calm and fair demeanour Mr Gibbon used when dealing with the particularly challenging behaviour from a school goer at the time.
“I thought to myself, this young boy needs discipline,” he said. But, instead, he learned from Mr Gibbon that boundaries and discipline are only one aspect of meaningful leadership – and the other is a form of compassionate listening.
“Often, our children have no-one at home who listens to them, or is there to help them out of a very difficult situation,” Mr Shaw said.
It was true then, it remains true today. The students at Muizenberg High come from many areas and social situations, and often they don’t have anyone in their immediate family who can offer them a different perspective on the limited experience of their lives.
He looks deeply sad for a moment. “Once you understand the situations that some children live in, you understand that – sometimes – that acting out behaviour has its roots in some very serious stuff.”
And what he learned from Mr Gibbon he has retained and built on during the 19 years of his tenure as principal.
He has seen significant change, but he says earnestly that most of it has been organic, with the best teachers at the time, being appointed.
When he joined in 1993, there were 373 white pupils at the school and 20 Western Cape Education Department (WCED) teachers. He took the seat as principal in 1999.
Last year, there were 706 pupils of all backgrounds… and the same number of WCED teachers.
“In 2006, we had eight school governing body teacher posts. At last count, in 2015, we had 17, and the ration of white teachers had dropped from 76 percent to 48 percent.”
Mr Shaw says it has been like teaching at three different schools over this time, and that only the school’s core values and vision have not changed.
“The transition has gone smoothly and was barely noticed as the staff – as they have been employed – have continued with the focus of wanting the best for each learner over the years and in caring for the children and the school.”
He says they believe strongly in the broken windows theory.
Fixing the small but visible things, such as making kids learn the value of wearing their school uniform with pride, goes a long way to instilling in them a sense of respect for themselves and their environment.
Mr Shaw says the ethos of the school has always been to develop what he calls “the whole child”.
Involvement in extra-murals and the nurturing of sound values is as important as academic achievement.
“The matric pass rate we have has always been in the high 90s, and this is the result of every teacher’s commitment and encouragement of each of their learners. Parents have a great role to play, and when they are on board then we know the child has every chance to do their personal best.”
He says this philosophy extends to all staff, ground staff included.
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“We have a groundsman who is a superb athlete and he has our permission to give the kids at school direction on this, another staff member coaches kids interested in soccer.”
His position as principal has enabled him to watch and sometimes help to direct the growth of the school’s many teachers in knowledge, confidence and leadership. He says when teachers move on due to promotion, they leave a gap, but he feels blessed to to have played a small part in their development.
“Teaching is a challenge,” Mr Shaw said, with a wry grin. “Any parent of a teenager knows what they can be like – and we have 706 of them every day,” he laughed. “But it is incredibly rewarding to see young people develop and mature. And they do,” he said.
In closing, he said it has been an absolute privilege to teach at Muizenberg High School and to be part of a committed team of teachers, support staff and ground staff who have given so much more than expected for the good of each pupil.
His time now will be devoted to his Christian calling, travelling locally and focusing on his photography.