Highlands Primary School staff, pupils and parents bid farewell to retiring principal Gavin Burgess, who has been at the school – Mitchell’s Plain’s first school – for close to three decades.
Speakers described Mr Burgess as a disciplined person and an avid sportsman.
Joan Woodman, Ward 75 councillor and chairperson of the school governing body (SGB), said she has a long history with the school and a good relationship with the principal.
“I’ve been SGB chair for six years. Mr Burgess and I worked together very well and he was very instrumental in a lot of things implemented at the school.”
She said she was proud of being part of the school. “When we elected him as the new principal I was part of that interview committee. I have a long journey with the school and I’m proud to be part of the school and I cherish every moment I spent with Mr Burgess,” she said.
Ms Woodman said she believed the legacy left by Mr Burgess will continue and she knows academically the school is very sound. She said she was moved to see Mr Burgess overwhelmed with emotion during the event. “Mr Burgess is not a man that is easily swayed emotionally but sitting next to him and seeing him wiping his eyes every time somebody said something made me very emotional,”she said.
Lillian Smith, one of the educators who has the longest service at the school, described Mr Burgess as a friendly person. “It’s easy to get along with him. He was a mentor, a sportsman, an athlete. He was also encouraging other teachers to take part in sport,” she said.
Shantel Mullins, Circuit 8 secretary, said it was an honour to be at Mr Burgess’ farewell party and also to work with him. “It’s a big loss but he has to retire. I had a good experience working with him. He is the kind of person who likes things to be done on time and if there were issues he would resolve it timeously.”
Mr Burgess said he has been teaching for 40 years – 27 of those at Highlands Primary School.
“I came here in 1990 from Cornflower Primary School. I came here as a head of department and went through various levels at the school. Later, in 2008, I became a principal,” he said.
Outlining challenges faced by the school, Mr Burgess said parents who were unable to pay school fees is one of them.
“The main challenge is to win over the confidence of parents and one of the issues is the paying of school fees. As you know the school is in quintile 5; that means there is a lack of funds and a lack of resources. So, win over the parents from day one and give them also a sense of belonging to the school,” he said.
Mr Burgess cited overcrowding as the main challenge in many schools as it has a negative impact on academic results. “The Department of Basic Education needs to reduce class sizes or increase the staff members because that will form the basis. Currently because of overcrowding teachers cannot produce,” he said, emphasising that the foundation must be laid at primary school level.
He urged the education department to make Grade R compulsory to prepare children for the outside world. “The Department of Basic Education must come to the party. They must make Grade R compulsory and make it part of the school.”
Mr Burgess said he hopes people remember the legacy he leaves behind. “When people knocked on my door and asked me if they could introduce this and that, I welcomed them with open arms because I believe in extramural activities and I hope that legacy continues,”he said.
Mr Burgess said more schools are needed for Mitchell’s Plain.
“More high schools need to be established because there are many children coming from primary schools and there is an influx of people coming from other provinces searching for better education.”
Parent Shantel Hendricks from Colorado Park said although Mr Burgess was strict and straightforward, he was also approachable and she would remember his punctuality and his love for sport.
Grade 7 pupil Akilah Moody was sad that Mr Burgess was leaving, saying he has done a lot for the school. “I’m so sad to see our principal leaving because he has been the pillar of our school.”