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Headmaster’s Address: 2016 College Celebration

Headmaster’s Address: 2016 College Celebration

I love the African bush, wherever it may be – Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe or even further up north where I have not yet ventured. But the Kruger Park holds a special attraction, perhaps because I started going there as a small boy and I found that losing myself in the search for some elusive animal was deeply calming, wonderfully frustrating, intimately magical and ultimately food for the soul. Seeing something for the first time is a gift – an aardvark, a pangolin, a martial eagle swooping down on a small Oribi or perhaps seeing a tiny pearl spotted owl. Running a school is a little like the African bush: you see uniqueness at every turn and nothing surprises you I mean there are birds of every colour – Purple feathers (Caira) and blue (Lauren). You see young buck rutting for dominance in the herd, mostly Jake Turner or Nic Lellyett or a particular long haired antelope, Ross Hunter skulking around the art room. Our children our beautiful in every way sometimes scruffy, not always very polite, interesting, extraordinary, wonderful people. They don’t always greet and you can always rely on them to speak their minds.

Not all animals in the Kruger would receive a prize for the size of their horns or their valuable pelts and not all animals are keen to be seen – a bit like some at Oakhill – some are shy and elusive, some are still growing and developing and in true Oakhill fashion we want to celebrate many of you today but if you are a young man or woman who has been elusive this year – if you have not yet built the confidence to be seen and to make your mark, it doesn’t mean that you will not be a prize winner in the future. Life in the bush is tough and I would encourage you to be resilient and determined – your time will come!

Working with young men and women is fascinating, invigorating, magical and ultimately incredibly rewarding food for the soul, but I have digressed – let’s get serious…..

Members of the Oakhill School Board, Mr Richard Foyn our Chairman, my colleagues on the staff, young men and women of Oakhill College, Ladies and Gentlemen it is my honour and privilege to present to you the 24th annual report on the activities of the school.

Many of you are saying – Thank God, it’s his last!

Eight years ago I arrived in Knysna. My office was what we now know as Housekeeping and as I walked to my desk for the first time – I noticed a letter addressed to me, lying prominently waiting to be opened. When I opened it I realized that it was a letter of welcome from the Mayor – welcoming me to the town and congratulating me on my appointment. It is now my privilege to welcome the same mayor to our Celebration 8 years later: Honourable Bouw-Spies welcome and thank you for taking the time to join us!

In 1992, 24 years ago our school, started with 54 pupils and 5 teachers on the first floor of Woodmill Lane. Oakhill was born into, what was still apartheid South Africa. It was a violent time, a time of uncertainty and angst for both the country and our school.

In 2016, Oakhill is 24 years young, has 500 students and 96 staff members. We operate two campuses and we live in a democratic, vibrant and ever changing society and our school is well-respected. We travel internationally and nationally on sport, cultural and academic tours and we host and select students and teachers for exchanges in India, the United Kingdom, Germany the United States and Argentina. In-fact we are going to have to become more selective about who we interact with in the future as visiting our beautiful school becomes more popular.

2016 brings with it a different uncertainty, with different angst but when one looks around the world you soon realize that this is the modern way. You have to embrace uncertainty. You have to embrace change! You have to embrace vulnerability and we have to be resilient! I certainly would not want to return to the thinking of the 70’s and 80’s and I would encourage you as parents to resist those who believe industrial era thinking in education is the way to go. Yes, kids need structure, yes discipline but adopting a formula based approach to teaching is not learning. Any teacher worth their salt can line kids up in rows and produce results and wave it in your face and claim they are great teachers – no they are not! They are great coaches. They are great manipulators of the cookie-cutter- system which does not allow for freedom of thought, exploration and ultimately real learning. In short, don’t be fooled by examination results and vaguely think that these can substitute real thinking, learning and creativity – they cannot! Oakhill’s ethos is not about bloody minded pursuit of results and examination. Less testing is better and more freedom to explore and discover and learn allows Oakhill kids to thrive after they leave here. Thankfully our academic staff at Oakhill subscribe to our founders’ vision of a broad and balanced education – and so it should be. (Louis’s comment: I have been affected and changed more by Oakhill than I have changed and affected it- it’s a reminder to us all)

Our founders would be proud of all your sons and daughters have achieved here this year. Their vision of a happy, creative, balanced all-round education is evident everywhere! This is truly a magical place for kids…..

Perhaps your children took a trip to CT on the Biology Tour or they attended the Grade 11 Science camp to Grahamstown or they built bridges in the Bridge Building competition – we had two teams participate in the provincial competition and Courtney Wilkinson, Julia Lamprecht and Caitlin Smith progressed to Nationals. Perhaps your son or daughter participated in Odyssey this year or perhaps they took part in an exchange to India, Germany or Scotland. Perhaps they hosted our Argentinian exchange students and perhaps you are saving up your pennies to reciprocate next year when Mr Botha takes a group there. Perhaps you joined the Geography excursion to the Karoo. Perhaps you are in a team that beat our arch-rivals Glenwood this year or perhaps you want to go on the tour to China in 2017. Perhaps your son or daughter won a prize at the 36-hour Drama festival or a certificate at the George eisteddfod. Or perhaps you were there to witness Todd Walker score a 150 in a 20/20 cricket game to win the final of our inaugural cricket festival – he also scored 242no vs Glenwood in Super league game – a school record.

Perhaps you looked on in awe when Dean Matter achieved 9 distinctions for Matric last year or you played a part in repainting a crèche in the local township.

We all wish we could have been in Pretoria to see Sam Mvimbi sing the national anthem as an U18 South African Hockey player and to cheer him on as his team whipped their Australian counterparts.

Perhaps you watched our 1st girls hockey side break through a glass ceiling by beating Glenwood, Outeniqua and York this season. Perhaps you were there when our boys 1st XI hockey side drew to Grey in PE. We all celebrated when Xisca Taylor came 1st in a national equestrian eventing competition. Perhaps you also heard about our very own heroes: Devon Dodd and Kyle Underwood or Jonathan van den Dolder and Kade Dickens who saved someone from drowning in two separate incidents this year.  Perhaps Nicholas Thompson mesmerized you with his master-of-ceremonies skills at various school events. Maybe you were not aware that Chandre Strydom has a Black belt in Karate – don’t mess with her!

You see – our school is a rich tapestry of experiences and learning opportunities which will continue to whet the appetite of many in years to come. There is a magic here which is difficult to contextualize and describe.

Mindfulness – Living in the past and the future

Our executive team and subsequently our Grade 9’s have embarked in a module of mindfulness…..this practice of focusing ones awareness on the present moment is key at a time when there is much turbulent noise – socially, politically and academically.

There are some among us who would prefer to live in the past. You see the past as a safe, convenient harbour of lazy thinking. Education cannot dwell in the past. What worked for yesteryear does not necessarily work for today or for the future. When parents or teachers live in the past we disempower our students. Lazy thinking in education is not only dangerous but fatal and schools who adopt an attitude that students should get better grades at the expense of everything else have clearly not taken note of the mess society finds its self in today.

We live in an era where we quite clearly need to decipher between what is good about the past and what is good about the modern world and adopt it.

There are also some of us who live in the future: We worry too much about what our children will become tomorrow and we forget that they are somebody today.

The magic of Oakhill is embodied in embracing the now and not only enjoying the moment but learning from it as well!

My family arrived in Knysna at the end of 2008 – a short eight years ago. My son Joshua was 5 and my daughter Hannah three. They are now 14 and 12 and entering another phase of their young lives. I won’t tell you how old my wife is!

The time was very different. There was hope in the air, the economy was picking up, school numbers were growing and the anticipation of change was tangible.

We now face some serious challenges. We have a political leadership devoid of any moral authority and values have been eroded. Our Universities are currently taking the brunt of this frustration and it is at times like these that ordinary citizens need to stand up for what is right and just. ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing – said Edmund Burke. For a decade we have spoken about raising resilient young men and women and now is the time for them to step up to the plate. To stand for what is right and to speak truth when those with ulterior motives seek to hijack the agenda. It is not going to be easy, but for many in our country it has never been easy. We have a responsibility to spread hope, optimism and love and when I speak to your sons and daughters I have no doubt that they have the wherewithal to take us forward positively.

Academic achievement – Matric results

I am delighted that the 2015 Matric group produced the best results in Oakhill’s history. It is important to remember that it is more about the quality of the results than the results themselves and the fact that 92% of our students achieved a University entrance (compared to 85% in the IEB) speaks to this premise. A total of 87 subject distinctions were achieved out of a class of 36 pupils. This ratio of 2.4 distinctions per candidate is our best ever.

  • Special mention must be made of Dean Matter who achieved nine distinctions and who received an average of 90%
  • Seven Distinctions Cassandra Allberry
  • Six Distinctions James Cooney, Kristin Groenewald, Megan Thompson
  • Five Distinctions Joshua Carver, Andrew Frost, Leon Martin, Sonja Moodley, Benjamin Gunn
  • Four Distinctions Matt Fermor

Our subject averages not only compare favourably with the IEB national averages but in the vast majority of cases they are better than the national averages. Our Visual Art results were outstanding with all 7 of our candidates achieving a Level 7. The Visual Art subject average for 2015 is 90% – congratulations to Amy Nuttall. Information Technology continued in their excellent ways under the guidance of Diana Barnard with an average of 80% compared to the IEB’s 69%. Life Sciences also ensured success with an average of 76% and Juliet le Fleur can certainly be proud of these students.

Our Mathematics and Science results continue to impress. 64% of our candidates took Mathematics as a subject in 2015 (compared to 65% in IEB schools) and 48% of them achieved either an ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’ symbol. Our average for Mathematics this year is on par with the IEB national average. Our Mathematics department continue to deliver the best results on the Garden route.

44% of our Matrics chose to take Physical Science and 56% of them achieved either an ’A’ or ‘B’ symbol. Our average for Science last year was 72%.

I would like to make specific mention of the English department’s results. All our students have to do English and their average of 70.5% compared to a national IEB average of 68% is unbelievable. Melanie Cloete who heads up this department can truly be proud of this effort!

Facilities

It is significant for me and the school that this Celebration and prize-giving takes place on this campus – the OSC. This did not exist when I arrived in 2009 – in fact I quite clearly remember taking my U14 hockey practice in three different places in one week – but mostly they happened on the Leisure Isle common. Now I can pop down to the astro to see Viggo Platt or Joshua Smith setting up a pass for Joshua Harvey or James Armstrong to score a goal. This campus has changed the way we think about ourselves and it has certainly changed the way others think of us. It is a place where magic happens!

It is wonderful to be able to thank, particularly, Leon Smith who has enabled us to raise the money to build the cricket nets on the opposite side of this field and the Supporters Braai area, where you will find him with a beer in hand, and a broad smile trying to convince you to purchase a wors roll. Thank you Leon, your support and enthusiasm for developing these facilities has been an example!

It would be remiss of me not to make mention of Ian and Merinda Brymer who are the most selfless, humble and generous people I have met in Knysna. We have been able to transform the academic campus and establish this campus as a result of their generosity. I will miss collaborating with you!

We are also about to take transfer of this land after an exhausting process which included an Environmental Impact Assessment among other things. We could not have done this without the expertise of Paul Kotze, the chairman of our Planning Committee. Paul’s unassuming presence looms large and I will be eternally grateful to you for being prepared to give of your time to help us bring this campus to life – it stands here now as a testament to your vision: THANK YOU!

I am pleased to announce that we finally have a dedicated 20mbs internet line supporting our state of the art wi-fi. Initially this will be a radio link but as we speak they are installing fibre optic cable to ensure consistency. This infrastructure will enhance the learning environment for your children and will enable us to link with education institutions world-wide.

We also have a task team looking into ensuring that we adopt the best education platform to take us forward positively. I would like to thank Ryan Habib, Dylan Langheim and Melanie Vogt for spending the time to travel and research this to ensure we make the correct decisions in the future. The executive has unanimously endorsed their recommendations of a google platform and now they will be presenting their findings to the Board for final approval.

Much has happened in the last decade:

  • We have grown by 200 kids
  • We have grown in stature and self-discipline and as a consequence our Matric results have improved year on year.
  • We have improved our faculty and facility and all academic departments now strive for excellence but more importantly we have not: Lost the joy of learning.

When we opened this campus in 2014 I indicated that it would only come alive when we heard your sons and daughters running around here and the last two years bear testament to that vision. This has been a place of joy, freedom, discipline and excellence and our children have thrived here. I am hoping that in years to come your children will be able to participate in a swimming pool complex designated for the area behind the clubhouse, netball and tennis courts – situated to my right and continue, most importantly to feel the support and encouragement from parents and teachers.

Eight years ago Tiffy Lellyett was just 10 years old – and now he is on the cusp of his final year of school. I will miss seeing you at your Matric Dance young man.

Jade Wolf, Jake Turner and Louis Maarsingh were in Grade 5 and if you look at Jake’s Grade 5 class photo – he had the same naughty glint in his eye back then.

Callum Nichol and Marelie Viljoen were in Grade 4 and now their Mum’s, who are teachers here, have to contemplate them completing their time with us in 2017.

Veda Vosloo, Jordan Shrosbree, Kelly Dawkins and Sven Botha were in Grade 3. Now these young men and women have completed the Odyssey and Sven is the DJ of choice in town.

Daniel van Zyl, who now has a size 13 shoe was in Grade 2, as was Hannah Micklewood who recently won an international dance competition. Neve Canny and Morgan Brymer were also completing Grade 2 and I have no doubt that these young girls will make their mark on the school before they leave.

My U14 hockey side were 6 years old and Emily Carver, Jess Devine and Deanna Smith were causing trouble on the jungle gyms of the Foundation Phase.

When I started at Oakhill in 2009 I had the district impression that this was a school and a community which wanted to develop and nurture a school which had specific strengths. The Board who originally appointed me were determined to take the school forward positively and this was palpable from my first day.

This has been the most fulfilling time of my life and Oakhill School has found a special place in my heart. The school has a beautiful rhythm and ethos and despite a rocky start, to its existence, has managed to find a tolerant, diverse, rigorous passion for excellence. The young men and women at Oakhill have certainly played a central role in its development and I would like to think that their voice will always be heard and appreciated. Whilst teenagers do not always know what is best for them they possess a fresh wisdom and perspective and over the last decade it is my sincere belief that our children have learnt that it’s not what they say but how they say it and interact thereafter that counts in the long-run. Treat children with respect and they will respect the difficult decisions you have to make from time to time. As always there were those kids who were disrespectful but that is how we learn.

I would like to thank each and every one of you for allowing me the privilege of leading our school over the last decade. I am aware that there are always times when parents do not necessarily agree with decisions made and I would like to thank you for your patience, guidance and vision for our school during my tenure. Thank you for trusting the management and for supporting us particularly during difficult times. I have always felt the reassuring support of the entire Board but particularly Peter Wallington and in the last year Richard Foyn, who I have no doubt will navigate this next stage of the school’s development with passion, vision and determination.

It is never easy to be a Governor and I am grateful to everyone who has given of their time in this regard. Your influence and guidance has allowed the school to thrive and ultimately fly positively into the future. I would like to thank, Suzi Giliomee, Tracy Boomer, Anne Clarke, and Guy Thesen who were part of the Board who appointed me. The one thing we need to entrench at Oakhill, and this Guy taught me – one cannot drive a car looking through the rear window – Oakhill is a forward looking, innovative, creative and energetic space and harking for past-times belongs to schools who are 150 years old not 25. To Susan Kotze for her committed support and guidance, to Gordon Shutte for his tireless effort despite inconsequential criticism. To Jon Salters who has become a friend and confidante but who would not hesitate to challenge or question and lastly to Peter Wallington whose very blood flowed through the arteries of the school. I have not, in my time at Oakhill, met one who was more passionate about Oakhill than Peter Wallington and the amount of time he sacrificed for this school has been an example. His wisdom, counsel and mentorship has had a profound effect on my life and I am grateful that our friendship will continue beyond the bounds of the school we both led.

Richard Foyn has graciously stepped into this role and I have no doubt that he will continue the legacy started 24 years ago. Richard has brought a determined and focused steady hand to the decision making and I have appreciated his counsel and I will miss the interaction with him, and particularly our finance committee Francois Hay, and Gavin Loon.
Derek Devine, Guy Platt, Mike Verrier and Jacqui Lamprecht have also offered their valuable time to ensure good-governance and I am extremely grateful for that. I am confident that the school is in good hands and I have no doubt that we will be able to continue our unique journey into the next decade with confidence and optimism.

Thanks to staff:

I recently tweeted a quote by Phil Jackson which is apt: the strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team. You cannot have a great team made up of mediocre members but most importantly you cannot have individuals who cannot see that working as a team is far more powerful. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts and this has been the story of our school.

I am extremely grateful to our team who have worked tirelessly to ensure that Oakhill remains focused and works relentlessly toward providing our children with a unique and superior education. In my humble opinion, I think they continue to achieve this despite encountering the inevitable disruptions and divisions. I would like to thank them, as a team, for all they have done during my tenure to steer us through the stormy seas of the education landscape.

It is always dangerous to name a few individuals but I would like to do this. My intentions are not to exclude but I obviously cannot speak to our whole team or else we will be here forever.

Perhaps I will start with someone who has left here but made an impact on how we do things – Moira Shady epitomized: love, joy and care in all she did at Oakhill. We did not always agree on every issue but she was the consummate professional and understood the concept of TEAM and valued it more than her own opinions – I thank her for this!

Sharon Brown has been the ultimate servant of the school. She has served in numerous capacities within the organization – from Acting Head to Academic Director to Learning Support coordinator. Sharon sees a need and sets about sorting it out without any fuss. I have relied on her counsel and expertise and I have appreciated it.

Hannalie Viljoen is Oakhill’s version of a super-hero. When you need something sorted out – she will do it and when I say to her you cannot do this as well, her rote response is always: watch me! She is firm, fair and consistent and the ultimate team player, thank you!

Juliet le Fleur is always willing to help but underestimates her influence and should speak up more, Ryan Habib is going to be a wonderful leader in his department and voice of reason, Liam Bell has transformed the business studies department and his interaction in every facet of the school is underestimated- If you need to rely on somebody, Liam’s your man. Ma’am Rijpstra is a star in every sense: open, sincere, caring and willing to learn.

I have relied heavily on Melanie Cloete’s opinion and have never regretted it and I take immense delight in the fact that her department, the biggest in the school, continues to produce such amazing results. I have appreciated her council, sharp intellect and insight. Speak out more Melanie – your voice is important.

Andrew Browne is finding his feet in the most extraordinary circumstances. His quiet, diligent systematic ways will allow our school to thrive in the future.

Louise Fourie’s quiet wisdom is fundamental, Dr Herman Kitshoff is below the radar at present but my word there is depth and wisdom there which I am going to miss. Diana Barnard is naughtier than you think, Hannette Bouwer’s passion is invaluable, Cemone Hewetson and Anneke Lamont will transform our performing arts, and Melanie Vogt has made the world of difference in the Learning Commons. She underestimates her strengths and I hope our paths will cross again in the future. The amazing Shobana Moodley transforms and adapts no matter, Chicco Ponela never changes. Zolani Jenteza has transformed what we do on the grounds. He is a true leader and team member and someone for whom nothing is too much – I will miss our chats! Claemont Titus is a legend – I really mean that – a more reliable person would be hard to find. Go well Oom Bok!

Dawie Botha joined Oakhill seven years ago. He instituted systems, developed relationships, built trust and did things no one else was prepared to do. I trust him implicitly and I am pleased to announce this morning: with the Board’s guidance and prompting, we have decided to restructure the whole-school executive and Dawie will take up the position of Head of College with James Cross taking up the same position in the Prep School in 2017. Mr de Villiers will assume responsibility for both schools as Head of School when he arrives in the new year.

I would also like to make mention of Caroline Payton – who is our Academic Director Innovation and Staff Development. Caroline has been someone I have been able to lean on in a number of circumstances over the years. I value her perspectives on education, particularly inclusion but I also value her opinion on a range of issues because I know she will be brutally honest with me. She is an invaluable asset to the organization and I will miss her wise counsel.

Unfortunately, we have some Staff members leaving:

Robyn Humphreys joined us from Taiwan – she was teaching there as many others her age are still doing. She departs for Hong Kong at the end of the year and this will be a huge loss for the school community. She was our first ever skype appointee and we certainly have not regretted her input in all facets of school life. She is the consummate professional – keeping me on my toes, berating me because she cannot walk on a make-shift pathway in her high heels in the mornings. But this is not how I will remember her. She is fast becoming a master English and History teacher and her skills will be difficult to replace. Robyn has made it her responsibility to build relationships in and out of the classroom and I can confidently say she is respected for this. You will see her helping at sports fixtures in summer and winter and our Dance club, as we now know it, was borne out of her passion for the art and her professionalism transcended gender boundaries and transformed lives. She is a huge loss but I have no doubt that this next phase of her career will shape her and I am hoping she will return to South Africa’s shores in the future – bon voyage!

Dave Pryke: It is with a tinge of sadness that we announced the resignation of David Pryke. Dave has worked at Oakhill as the Director of Sport since 2002 and has poured his heart and soul into the lives of many Oakhillians and leaves a legacy of excellence, compassion and the joy of learning.

Dave has always led from the front and has always been willing to learn and grow in an environment which has, at times, been difficult. The OSC is the culmination off his love of sport and generations of Oakhillians will need to thank him for establishing a culture of competitive excellence which will continue to carry the school bravely into the future. We have so much to thank Dave for: when I arrived at Oakhill at the end of 2008, Dave was the only person in the sport department. He ran both Prep and College sport single-handedly but his sacrifice and determined, dogged hard-work in those years have certainly borne fruit in latter years.

He leaves a department of four full-time staff members and 500 young men and women who have benefited from his labour. He has truly been a servant of the school in all respects and he takes up a position of Head of Leadership Development at his alma mater: Maritzburg College where he will also be involved coaching the 1st XI cricket side as well as establishing a cricket programme.

He will be missed but like all good leaders he has established a foundation for his successor which can be built on positively, as the school forges into the future and for this we are extremely grateful! There will be more time to say goodbye, and although we know that it will be difficult, he goes knowing he has our blessing and thanks for a job superbly done! Dave will be starting this position in January 2017 and we offer him our proud congratulations!

Henry Adams said: a teacher affects eternity, you can never tell where his influence stops. This is true of Dave, go well my friend!

Lastly….

Ethos is the Greek word for character. Descended from the same root as the word ethics, it is used to describe the beliefs, principles, values, codes and culture of an organization. It is the ‘way we do things around here’, the unwritten (and sometimes written) rules, the moral character of a particular group of people. It is the place we live, our certitude and rectitude, our base. Our values decide our character. Our character decides our value. Values provide the bedrock of belief. Any lasting organization –from churches to schools, companies to causes –has enshrined at their heart a fundamental set of principles: ours is the joy of learning. A values-based, purpose-driven culture is a foundation of Oakhill’s approach and sustained success. But, as any leader knows, value-words like integrity, sacrifice, determination, imagination, innovation, collaboration, persistence, joy, tolerance, respect, responsibility and so on seem powerful in the abstract, but can be flat and generic on the page. The challenge is always to bring them to life, and into the lives of those you lead.

Who we are matters immeasurably more than what we know or who we want to be. Who we are outweighs results, examinations and celebrating distinctions at Matric level. We are a happy, vibrant dynamic place of learning which provides a broad, balanced, modern education – but more than that we are a school who are respectful and tolerant and ambitious.

Time is limited. Life is fragile. Honour those who came before and those who come after. We are stewards of our school – I am hoping I have been part of a team who has left it in a better place for our successors. This is a special place, don’t take it for granted, cherish it, grow it, take it forward and most of all care for one another!

I relate to George Bernard Shaw’s words: Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as bright as possible before handing it on to future generations. We, who are currently involved at Oakhill stand on the shoulders of so many who have gone before us. We have built on the legacy of those who committed themselves to the beautiful purpose of dedicating their efforts to create this institution for our children. When I feel weighed down by the troubles of the modern world, I have no greater motivation than knowing that we persevered and conquered and as a result we are all stronger.

So to end off in an adaptation of the words of Andre van Niekerk, our founding Board chair – which are pertinent now: – I feel proud and privileged to have been part of this team. The magic is going to continue. There will be happy times, sad times, achievements and disappointments but one thing is certain, every child who is touched by the magic of Oakhill will be changed forever.

 

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