Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could, to where it bent in the undergrowth (Robert Frost)
In July this year I had the good fortune of travelling to the United Kingdom to visit family. Travel always gives one perspective, enriches your experience and delights the mind. Nevertheless, we found ourselves in a small village off the Devon coast called Stoke Gabriel where Robyn, Joshua, Hannah-Rose and I sat beneath a 650 year old yew tree situated in the local churchyard. I have always appreciated the beauty of trees and wondered what stories they would tell if they could speak. A 650 year old tree would certainly have some tales to tell and the sense of history this brings leaves one completely humbled.
Oakhill is not nearly 650 years old but there is no doubt there are some stories to tell and it is with sadness that I report the passing of Chris Edwards, one of our founding fathers and past Mayor of Knysna. I was fortunate enough to meet Chris earlier this year when Peebee introduced me and we spent a wonderful hour together, where he regaled me with stories about the founding of Oakhill. We will always be grateful for all Chris did for Oakhill and we pass on our sincere condolences to his wife Anouk and the rest of his family.
We have planted our own trees along the pathway and although they are only a couple of years old I have no doubt that they are already providing much pleasure and I would, once again, like to thank all who donated a tree. These trees have led the way in the rejuvenation of our gardens and I would like to thank Phil Stewart and his grounds team for all they have done to beautify our campus and ultimately create a sense of our own history. Imagine being around when our school turns 650 years old!
We celebrate the long service of seven stalwarts on our staff at the end of this year and I would like to thank Hannalie Viljoen, Albert Qwesha, Rubin Frans, Cheryl Wolf, Amy Nuttall, Moira Schady and Lwando Bantom for their dedication and passion over the last 10 years.
Tall trees provide us with a sense of stature and root us with our past and I would like to thank our Board, led by Peter Wallington, at the end of a busy yet wonderfully successful year. He does not only stand tall in a physical sense but continues to provide our school with the visionary leadership it needs in these difficult economic times. We are certainly privileged to have a board who selflessly give of themselves and I am hugely grateful for their wisdom and guidance in the past year.
We will not only be saying goodbye to our Matrics this year, who have closed out their careers with us in the most mature fashion, but we will also be bidding farewell to two staff members who have made a significant difference in their time with us. Jaci de Villiers has transformed Drama at Oakhill and has brought professionalism and rigour to our academic department. She is much loved here and we will miss her looming presence on our campus next year. On a personal note, I will certainly miss the rigorous debate she always provoked with me and I will certainly miss her laugh, her smile, her love of life, her passion, her belief in the vitality of the young, and most of all her hunger for the joy of learning. Her coming lightened our lives and her going will definitely leave a significant gap. The other significant talent we will lose this year is that of a wonderfully connected and exciting teacher: Nicole Nortje. Nicole bears testimony to the fact that Oakhill produces wonderful alumni. She has taught here for three years but in the time that I have known her she has grown immeasurably in stature. She has wisdom beyond her age and her beautiful, gentle, strong presence will be missed by both students and colleagues alike.
We also say goodbye to many families who will be relocating and I would like to wish them every blessing as they embark on this next phase of their journeys.
We are fortunate, as an independent school, to be able to subscribe to the Independent Examinations Board, and while academic standards in government schools around the country are brought into question, I continue to be comforted by the wonderfully professional service provided by the IEB. The IEB is benchmarked internationally, unlike the government examination, and I have no doubt that writing this exam will continue to allow our graduates to excel as they enter the next phase of their careers.
I can assure you that Oakhill continues to prepare your sons and daughters not only for university but for life after school. This is proved by current Oakhillians who are doing well at institutions around the world. It is an interesting fact and one which I am proud to share with you because I know many of you are making huge sacrifices to keep your children at an Independent school. 98% of all Independent school candidates pass their 1st year of university and go on to complete their course as opposed to 56% of government candidates who fail their 1st year.
Investing in your sons and daughters education is certainly a wise investment and one which will stand them in good stead in the future.
Grade 8 & 11 Leadership camp
Preparing young men and women for life does not only entail preparing them academically. They need to learn more about themselves and the world they interact with if they are going to navigate their lives successfully. Our grade 8’s and 11’s will once again be participating in a facilitated leadership experience and I am delighted with the wonderful way in which they have embraced this experience. Growing young men and women is at the very core of our mission at Oakhill and our Grade 7’s will also experience a similar facilitation at the beginning of 2011. My sincere thanks go to Greg Vogt, a parent at Oakhill but also the owner of the Elephant Park, for all his help in setting up the Grade 8 facilitation. I have no doubt that this will stand these young men and women in good stead in the future.
We will be starting 2011 with a total of 450 students and we will be welcoming 70 new students at the start of the new year.
We will also be welcoming new staff members: Kyle Langman will be teaching EMS in the College, George Potgieter, Music in the Prep school, Shaun Young, Drama in the College, and Monique Black will join us as a Grade R assistant. Tiemke Rijpstra joins the Afrikaans department in the College and Sue Buchalter takes on some English teaching as well as continuing her role in the Support Unit. Jane Horn will return to the classroom to teach Grade 5 alongside Jill Warne, Sallie Pettit joins the permanent staff as the Grade 4 teacher, Adele Conyers returns from maternity leave, Robin Long remains on the part-time staff as a sport coach and teacher and James Cross has been appointed as the Deputy Head in the Preparatory school.
Oakhill has many exciting activities planned for 2011. These include developing and expanding on an experiential curriculum, utilizing the surrounding areas as a classroom, developing an entrepreneurial module for grade 9’s, developing a new database and intranet to allow kids to interact with their teachers more conveniently, hosting an Independent schools hockey festival, an Independent schools Music, Art and Drama festival (in September), hosting major swimming galas for both prep schools and high schools in the area, creating a “Music in the Blue” for the Prep school called “Light Blue”, and hosting an Art exhibition for the Preparatory school. The Prep School Drama Department will be producing a drama in the IP phase, the College will be participating in an exchange programme with the International School of Cairo, and the Prep school will be investigating an academic tour to the UK. We will also be reintroducing the President’s Award in the College and highlighting the Headmaster’s Award in the Prep school. The idea started this year with the 48 hour Drama Festival and will be expanded to include Art and Music; as well as including the Prep school in a celebration of the Arts…….whew, that’s not all, but it will certainly keep us busy as we seek to bring you excellence at Oakhill.
Oakhill has certainly taken ‘the road less travelled by’ this year and I am proud of the wonderful achievements of all the young men and women whose school this is. They continue to lead, grow and discover and I have no doubt that we continue to build a school of significance in the small town of Knysna.
Now we come to the end of another significant period in our history and I thank you for trusting us with your kids, for believing in the beauty of youth and for allowing us to make mistakes along the way. Leadership in a complex society requires wisdom to hold together shared vision and to forge ways of making the impossible possible. Oakhill has the potential to demonstrate to ourselves and the world, as we have this year, that we can work together to realise the impossible. Thank you for helping us to dream, but for also grounding us in reality.
How should we define success? I quite like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s description: ” laugh often and much; win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; appreciate beauty; find the best in others; leave the world a better place, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” I am hoping that Oakhill has tried to achieve much of this this year and even now 2011 beckons.
Before that happens, it leaves me to wish you a wonderfully exciting and restful break with family and friends and a blessed Christmas. We look forward to a new beginning in 2011 but it is now time to pause, reflect and rest. Enjoy!