Turning things around

In 2010, before Derick Petersen arrived at Imizamo Yethu Secondary School in Thembalethu, George, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) had declared the school to be dysfunctional. The school was on the verge of being closed after achieving only a 27% pass rate for the class of 2010. However, under Petersen’s leadership, Imizamo Yethu’s pass rate rose to 82.4% in 2011 and the class of 2012 went even further, achieving an almost incredible 96.6% pass.
Petersen said: “The school achieved these results with the same staff members who were here in 2010 and 2011 — and they stayed on in 2012. “Most of these teachers are union members and where there is good leadership in a school, collaboration is possible.”

How was it done?
“The starting point was to understand the circumstances and background of our learners. Most had serious social challenges. “The first strategy was to remove them, albeit temporarily, from their home environment in order to provide them with a different educational context. “They attended both weekend and afternoon classes and we introduced a new disciplinary system. We encouraged consistent hardwork. We engaged telematics. “We held Autumn, Winter and Spring School Programmes. “We engaged the School Management Team in leadership programmes. My deputies have been incredible.”

Support for learners
Petersen continued: “We then focused on the killer subjects such as mathematics, physical science and accounting. We implemented a strategic plan throughout the year and cemented performance in all of these subjects. We also got help from Petro SA through their tutor programme. We even used our school funds to assist learners through employing tutors from other schools and getting retired people to help.”

Teacher development
Petersen also explained that teachers had received professional development training to support them in delivering high quality lessons on a daily basis. “The turnaround has been unbelievable,” acknowledged Petersen. “Today, parents send their children to our school because we do not tolerate delinquent behaviour here. We are blessed with excellent individuals who could see the vision. We do everything as a team in the spirit of Ubuntu. We put performance in the classroom first. Through the teacher development training provided, educators started to believe in themselves and they allowed me to develop their skills in areas where they needed help. In other areas where I was unable to offer what was needed, we brought in help from the private sector.”

Effective teaching
Petersen admits that when he arrived there was a bit of resistance. “As we all know, where there is movement against the tide, there is bound to be resistance. I only requested three months to implement the strategy. It worked — and the school started experiencing cooperation between learners, teachers and administration services. Together, we created a culture of learning based on the belief that where there is effective teaching, there is effective learning and visa versa.”

Who we are in the community
Petersen believes that if he should leave, the school will continue to produce the same results. “This is because the strategy we implemented is sustainable. I believe that if we want to be leaders in communities we have to exhibit change in behaviour that is sustainable and produces good results. The community will want to listen if we carry ourselves as role models who care enough to give our children an education that secures them a good future.”

The results
Out of the 88 learners who wrote the matric exams in 2012, only three failed. They did however qualify to write supplementary exams. There were 42 other learners achieved a bachelor’s pass. Here is a more detailed breakdown of their results:
Overall pass rate 96%

•Physical science 100%

•Accounting 100%

•English 100%

•Isi Xhosa 100%

•Life orientation 100%

•Mathematical literacy 100%

•Religion studies 100%

•Pure maths 95%  

•Life sciences 96%

•Geography 96%
In addition, six learners in the class of 2012 achieved A symbols: one A in physical, 3 As in economics, one A in life sciences, one A in religion studies and one A in agricultural sciences.


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