A few years ago, when I found myself frustrated by the speed at which change can be effected in a school environment, one of our more vociferous staff members – who for purposes of this report shall remain nameless – compared St Benedict’s to an ocean liner and advised me of the obvious: that change in an institution of this size happens “by degrees and not minutes”. At the time, we were talking about icebergs and, yes, it was a bad navigational pun but it is a sentiment that I have found myself returning to throughout the voyage that was my first year as Executive Headmaster of this formidable vessel.
There are landmark moments of change in the history of a school. None is more dramatic and public than a change in the position of Executive Head. Arriving at school on the first day of 2011, I was struck by the enormity and importance of the challenge that lay ahead of me. I do not believe there can be a more daunting task than to follow in the footsteps of a predecessor whose term of office spanned twenty-seven years, whose vision had transformed this institution and whose name will always be intricately woven into the fabric of the place.
Now, at the end of the 2011 Academic year, I realise that my trepidation was ill-founded. Little did I realise the tremendous support I would receive from all fronts. I have been blessed with a very competent, focused and hardworking Executive Committee. Throughout the year, we have found ourselves “on the same page” and it is always gratifying to lead a team who share your vision and goals. Our fortnightly SBC Exco meetings have been characterised by constructive debate and informed decisions. I must, therefore, pause at the start of this report and formally thank Graeme Edwards and our team of Deputies for their unwavering commitment to St Benedict's and all that it represents.
At heart, I remain an English teacher and I find the lure of a good novel or poem and the delights of a well-made film infinitely more appealing than the monthly budget figures. I will be forever indebted to the assistance of Coleen Mowatt, our bursar, in this regard. My financial inexperience has been greatly strengthened by her years of familiarity with the intricate workings of the St Benedict's budget. Our early morning meetings are increasingly becoming one of the more pleasant periods of my daily routine.
I am also beholden to our Board of Governors and the St Benedict's Trust for their unfailing support and encouragement throughout the year. I thank the stalwarts: our Chairman, Robin Lydall; Paul Carstensen and John Esterhuizen. I also thank Les Matthews and Dieter Klapthor, both of whom stepped down from their positions during the course of 2011. Mr Klapthor, in particular, for many years, played a crucial role in the development of facilities and the growth of Rugby at the school.
Thank you, too, to the following parents who accepted invitations to join the Board of Governors during the course of this year: Alberto Bollo, Bruce Boake, Kim Breet, Isaac Motaung and Niel Philipson. Their expertise in key areas will stand St Benedict's in good stead and we look forward with great anticipation to their continued contribution to the wellbeing of the school, its staff, parents and boys. We are in a very privileged position to now have no fewer than four old boys serving as governors of the school.
I would be remiss in not acknowledging the steadfast support of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the St Benedict’s Trust. The presence of the Oblates is still strongly felt at our school in large and small ways. Fr Terry Barnard, the Oblate Provincial, Fr Leathem, Fr Fidgeon and Fr Maselwane sit on the St Benedict’s Trust. Fr Tony Daniels – whom you all know very well - our school chaplain and Malvern parish priest, is a member of the St Benedict’s Board of Governors. There has been more than one occasion during the course of the year when a well-written and inspired email from Fr Barnard has guided me through a difficult decision. Likewise, my regular Wednesday and Friday meetings with Fr Daniels have had a profound impact on both my professional, personal and spiritual development. I know that for that I will be eternally grateful.
Finally, my deepest debt of gratitude must go to the St Benedict’s staff, parents and boys. It is you who on a day-to-day basis ensure that we all are associated with a school of this calibre.
It is with the humbling knowledge that most of what has been achieved this year has been the result of collegiate efforts of all these stakeholders that I take pleasure in reporting on the following matters. The reader is encouraged to read this report in conjunction with the College and Preparatory School Headmasters’ Reports.
Estimated enrolment at St Benedict's for 2012 is 1398 boys: 397 in the Junior Preparatory School, 385 boys in the Preparatory School and 618 boys in the College. At a time when most independent schools are experiencing a decline in numbers, we are indeed blessed to be experiencing record enrolment with unprecedented demand at Grade 8 and 9 level. This demand speaks volumes about the successes we continue to achieve in academics, sport and cultural activities and bears testimony to the overall happiness of our boys and parents.
At the start of 2011, 1384 boys commenced the academic year at St Benedicts. In terms of catchment areas, 33% of the boys stayed within 5 km of the school, 44% stayed within 5 to 10 km of the school while the remainder travelled to school from further afield. Catholic boys made up 44% of the school’s population. This figure represented an increase of 1% and is 17% higher than the national figures for Catholic schools. One of our greatest challenges remains transformation and diversity: 80.8% of boys enrolled at St Benedict’s are white.
A revised School Motto, Vision and Mission Statement followed in the wake of an Executive Indaba which was held early in January this year. It was also decided to give precedence to the term “Junior Preparatory School” as opposed to “Elementary School”. The main aim of the Indaba was to spend time looking at strategic planning and proposed developments for the next three years. At the end of this year, the Executive Team will meet once again to review progress and realign aims and objectives.
A number of new policy statements were formulated and adopted during the course of the year. These included policies governing Finances, Debtors, Fundraising, Sponsorships and Advertising, School Fees, Staff Accommodation and Steroid Testing. A Code of Ethics for Sports Coaches and Managers was also formally introduced. Towards the end of this year, a new St Benedict's tracksuit – which will be available to parents in time for the 2012 Winter sports season - was designed.
At the end of 2010, 116 Grade 12 boys wrote the National Senior Certificate. Of these boys, 109 achieved University Entry and 7 produced Diploma passes. The distinction rate was 1.97 distinctions per boy and in total 228 distinctions were produced. In addition to 53 boys achieving an aggregate of 70% and above, four St Benedict's boys featured on the IEB's Top Achievers' List.
The “Academic Achievement and Advancement” Initiative was launched at the start of Term 3 and interest from all three sections of the school has been most rewarding. The initiative involves interested staff members meeting on a regular basis to "take stock" of the state of academics at St Benedict's and to provide a forum which will drive the continued advancement of academics throughout the school.
The school website was completely refurbished during the course of Term 1 and re-launched at the start of Term 2. The development of the site is outsourced but is kept up to date by key personnel in each of the three sections of the school. All weekly newsletters are now published in digital format through the school.
In addition to a very focused and deliberate drive to improve the general aesthetics and appearance of the campus, its grounds and gardens; the following initiatives also formed part of the development projects for 2011:
- Academic subject budgets were dramatically increased;
- “Learning Space” budgets were introduced to allow subject teachers throughout the school to attend to their immediate academic needs within the classroom;
- Extensive renovations in the Boarding House saw better kitchen and bathroom facilities been introduced for Boarding Masters and the provision of a new office for the hostel sister freed up space for an additional four boys in the hostel;
- The Dean Rd Property – originally intended as the Executive Headmaster’s residence – has been extensively renovated and will officially be opened as our new Aftercare Centre early next year. The new centre will give our preparatory school parents and their sons access to the best facilities available at the cheapest price;
- The Board of Governors also approved the purchase the Zeeman Rd property immediately adjoining the school's eastern boundary as an alternate residence for the Executive Headmaster.
- R300 000 was set aside for the upgrading of the Ravens Sports Centre and the purchasing of additional gym equipment;
- Comprehensive renovations to the Tony Dobson Pavilion have provided our Rugby and Cricket boys – and their opposition – with first class change rooms;
- Shade cloth awnings were installed at the Rugby Pavilion and the Hockey Astroturf.
- During the August Holidays, the senior College computer centre was replaced. The replaced machines were redeployed into preparatory classrooms and a number of additional computers were purchased. All Preparatory and Junior Preparatory classrooms were networked. We are now fast approaching a situation where every teacher in every classroom throughout the school has a desktop computer with access to email and the internet.
Much time and energy was spent during Term 1 and 2 ensuring that St Benedict’s moves increasing towards full and comprehensive compliance in terms of Occupational Health and Safety. Developments this year include: the Formulation of a Health and Safety Policy, the Appointment of Health and Safety Representatives; the training of First Aiders (22% of our staff are now certified Level 1 First Aiders) and the training of Health and Safety Representatives. Termly meetings of the Health and Safety Committee are entrenched as part of the school's normal functioning with termly inspections of all facilities. First Aid Kits have been purchased for all necessary First Aid points and all buildings are compliant in terms of Fire Fighting Equipment.
St Benedict’s has affiliated with the School Programme offered by Rapewise SA. The Platinum Membership and Affiliation gives us free access to a wide range of professionals to assist both the school and its families to deal with “hot button” social issues. During the course of Term 1 and 2, staff workshops; parent and pupil presentations in and around the topic of “School Violence and Peer Victimisation” have taken place in the Junior Preparatory and Preparatory Schools as well as in the College.
On Tuesday, 4 October, St Benedict’s hosted its first Unified Cultural Showcase – an event decided upon at our January Exco Indaba. The evening consisted of music, speaking and drama presentations from boys in Grade R through to 12. The Junior Preparatory and Preparatory Choirs also had an opportunity to perform. The event – which was intended to showcase the depth and range of our cultural talent – was a resounding success. The hall was packed and the audience was very appreciative of the boys’ efforts. This will undoubtedly become an annual event on the St Benedict’s calendar.
There are, of course, many more achievements and activities that occurred during the past year, but unfortunately time and space precludes me from mentioning them all. However, they are extremely well presented on our new website and documented in our sectional school magazines and I congratulate our three editors – Mrs Margarita Nichas, Mrs Francene Kapp and Marion Mackinnon - on their respective publications.
Leading any school is a privilege and it has been an absolute honour to be involved in the life of this wonderful school over the past year – my first as Executive Headmaster. Increasingly we have the staff, the facilities and the structures that the current and future boys of the St Benedict’s community deserve and, as I have stated, I pay tribute to the many people who share in the task of making our dreams a reality. Our shared attitude of ‘good is not good enough’ and ‘nothing but the best will do at St Benedict’s” is why we all have a school that we can be all justifiably be proud to call ‘our school’.
To God be the Glory.
A C Oosthuysen