There are, I believe, a few core characteristics to a successful Catholic school: good leadership and effective governance; a community shaped by communion and centred in the person of Jesus Christ; an academic ethos of high expectation and achievement; excellent teachers and coaches who are ambitious for their pupils and a vibrant co-curricular life that is well-supported by the parent community. It is a commitment to the education of the whole child and one that is fed and sustained by the Gospel. It's a tall order: one which we try our best to accomplish at St Benedict's each day. On the odd occasion we fail; sometimes we falter; more often than not we enjoy resounding success.
It gives me great pleasure to present this annual Executive Headmaster's report on the activities of St Benedict's in 2014.
We commenced the 2014 academic year with 1441 boys enrolled: 383 in the Junior Preparatory, 390 in the Preparatory and 668 in the College. Of these, 25.7% of boys enrolled at the school were from previously disadvantage communities; an increase of 8.5% across the course of the last five years. Catholic enrolment is at 42% with representation from 29 parishes throughout Johannesburg.
WHOLE SCHOOL STAFFING
Oliver Guyonnaud - rowing coach and webmaster - left the school for the private sector and was replaced by Dean Spiller who fulfils a myriad of roles including graphic designer, webmaster, iPad Manager and Retreat Master. Chantelle Burgin assumed her role as Head of Marketing at the start of 2014 and Lindi Ntontela joined the school as Head of Human Resources at the start of Term 2.
It was with great sadness that we learned of Thembi Shongwe's passing in June 2014 from injuries sustained in a car accident. We continue to keep Thembi, her family and young Sihle in our prayers.
DEVELOPMENT & IMPROVEMENTS
I often joke that the "health" of St Benedict's can be judged by the state of the Executive Headmaster's shoes: if they are covered in dust, one can be sure that the school is building something somewhere and things must be good! My shoes have needed polishing throughout the year. The school's development budget for 2014 was shared amongst a varied assortment of projects:
The new sports block was completed towards the end of 2013 and staff took occupation at the start of the March 2014. The venue has gone a long way to relieving some of the congestion that was experienced in the previous sports offices which have since been converted into College RE classrooms.
Grandstands, a headmasters' pavilion and a retaining wall have been erected in the front of the new sports offices. The entire area was also paved. A ramp was installed which now allows access from the top driveway onto the hockey fields and also down into the gym car park.
The electrical feed into the school was upgraded to provide adequate electrical supply for the new classroom block. The upgrade also allowed us to shift the astro lights, waterpolo pool pump and tennis court flood lights onto different circuits. These facilities can now run simultaneously.
In response to feedback received from boys and parents during the 2013 IQAA Evaluation, the school undertook extensive renovations of the Hockey pavilion and Preparatory school toilets. The Junior Preparatory playground toilets were also renovated.
The two College Life Science laboratories were refurbished during the August holidays.
The cottage-pane hall doors were replaced with aluminium stacking doors. The new doors go a long way to relieving the high temperatures that are experienced in the hall during the summer months.
Work on a new classroom block for the College commenced in August 2014 and is scheduled to be completed by August 2015. This will provide an additional 12 classrooms and 2 specialist Art Classrooms with patio studios for practical work. The facility also makes provision for a school uniform/stationery shop as well as a first aid room.
The College senior computer centre was replaced and redeployed to the junior centre. The junior centre's machines were dispatched to the new Sports Offices.
A class set of iPads was purchased for the College. These are being used predominantly by the Physical Science and English departments.
E-beams were installed in all the Preparatory school classrooms.
A fiber-optic cable was installed to improve the link between the Junior Preparatory School and the main campus.
Additional classroom furniture and a set of lockers for senior College boys were purchased.
The College auditorium was renovated.
The network of security cameras throughout the campus continues to be upgraded and extended. This year we installed a security room on the campus which allows us to monitor the school's 71 security cameras on a 24/7 basis.
Fifty wild olive trees were planted along the school boundary from Basil's to the Preparatory school gate.
In partnership with Life College SA Unlimited, St Benedict's conducted a three day Dialogue Series from 14 to 16 July 2014. The dialogue series - which was attended by over 40 staff members from all positions within the school hierarchy - focused on Transformation and Leadership with the intention of cultivating a Humanising Leadership Consciousness within the school. The process focused on Socratic dialogue and Experiential Learning. I am anticipating the publication of the report towards the end of this year. Life College SA will facilitate the "Nelson Mandela – The Champion Within" programme with all academic and sport staff at the start of the 2015 academic year.
An energy efficiency audit was conducted during the course of term two and a number of potential opportunities have been identified. We are hoping to attend to some of these over the course of the next few years. Our greatest challenge is that the various energy systems at the school have been added to over the years, resulting in a number of disjointed systems that would be difficult to control without making radical changes to the entire electrical reticulation network.
There have been numerous opportunities for professional development of staff and St Benedict's has had a presence at most of the workshops and conferences offered within the independent and Catholic school networks. The Heads of Schools, Deputies and Heads of Departments have all registered with the Continual Professional Teacher Development initiative which has been rolled out by SACE.
Our fledgling Alumni Association has continued to grow across the course of 2014. The highlight was undoubtedly the Homecoming Weekend at the start of September which proved to be a success. Close on 200 St Benedict's alumni returned to visit the school and share memories of their journey. We were particularly blessed to have representation from each decade of the school's history.
I am pleased to be able to report continued excellence in the areas of academics, sport and culture this year. The highlights have been many and I invite you to consult the school magazine or website for details.
I thank all the staff at St Benedict's for their meaningful contribution to our school and its boys. I include the academic, sporting administrative, auxiliary and grounds staff: all are committed members of a dedicated team.
I pay special tribute to Mr Graeme Edwards, Headmaster of St Benedict's Preparatory, who departs from St Benedict's at the end of this year. Mr Edwards was instrumental in establishing the Preparatory School in its current format and for some years was also the Headmaster of the Junior Preparatory School. We thank him for the rich and varied contribution he has made to our community over the course of sixteen years and wish him well as he continues his professional journey elsewhere. Graeme, Terry, Andrew and Daniel will always hold a very special place in our hearts and prayers.
We also bid farewell to David Tshishonga who for 22 years has been responsible for driving St Benedict's boys to and from their activities. We thank David for his many years of service and wish him all the very best for his retirement.
I have mentioned the staff, but I would like also to thank:
Our very special "Bennies boys”, each one of them from Grade R to Grade 12. There is something very special which differentiates a St Benedict's boy from others. This difference is in essence the knowledge that you belong to a brotherhood who cares, who strives and who searches for meaning, value and excellence in life.
The Board of Governors and Executive Committee for their unwavering support, guidance and understanding.
Our very passionate and supportive parents who entrust their sons to our care.
As the year draws to a close and we break for Christmas and time with family and friends, my hope is that we will all find time to slow down the pace of our daily lives. I would like to take the opportunity to challenge you - in the words of Katrina Kenison - to find through simplicity, the "freedom to do less and to enjoy more” and the time to see “the sacred in the ordinary . . . for turning our homes into havens where peace and creativity can flourish, and where we feed not only our children’s bodies and intellects but their souls as well.” What a wonderful message in a society where the Christmas season tends towards extravagance and commercialism.