By LILITHA BOCO
What goes on in the distinctive red brick school buildings on Beaufort Street so that year on year, girls go out into the world as resilient, independent, inclusive, confident, self-aware, and liberated individuals?
Victoria Girls’ High School holds multiple accolades: SA School of the year in 2007, Best Governed School in South Africa in 2011, the Top Eastern Cape school in 2013, and an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Circle of Excellence School.
When Grocott’s Mail went looking for this winning school’s principal, we found Warren Schmidt in his sunny office, showing an approach to teamwork that consistently keeps the school’s spirit together. “No matter what I want, it cannot happen without a team,” he said. His face lit up as he described how he felt when he was welcomed into the school as a new teacher in 2002. This first-hand experience of the school’s effort to make him feel at home informs his intention to ensure that both staff and pupils have a voice.
Various techniques allow the VGHS team to pitch ideas to enhance the school’s daily operations and environment. The team responds with urgency to ensure that valuable ideas are promptly implemented. Learners are constantly welcome in his office to engage in proposals and unpack diversity and transformation issues pertaining to the school’s running. In ways like these, the VG team ensures their school is “not static”.
Along with his colleagues, Schmidt is committed to the holistic wellness of the learners. The school has hired a psychologist, which means that the learners have access to professional psycho-social support.
It is not surprising that Schmidt has spent so much time preparing general knowledge competitions and coaching ultimate frisbee – as well as teaching history. They all require commitment and investment in an individual’s growth as each entails developing critical thinking skills, confidence on any given topic and enhancing self-esteem as a player who thinks clearly and smartly. This focus is rooted in his early life academic choices. As a student, he graduated with honours in psychology and registered for a Master’s in Education, researching career guidance for learners.
From his light-filled office in the historic school building, Schmidt’s investment now goes beyond Beaufort Street. He stresses the importance of VGHS connecting with schools in the greater community of Makhanda to ensure similar excellence.