Stalwart principal says goodbye

Kevin Pretorius at his final assembly on Thursday June 13.

The one person who was always sure to fix a child’s collar on the way to class, and who always started the day with a prayer, will not be returning to Rocklands Primary School in the new term.

As newly retired principal, Kevin Pretorius, 60, from Athlone, sat in his final assembly at Rocklands Primary, he was showered with gifts and kind words on Thursday June 13.

Mr Pretorius said he had travelled the same road to Rocklands Primary for 36 years of his teaching career and was sure his car knew the way. But after this term he will find himself on a different path.

“I have given what I could; now it’s time to look after myself,” he said.

Mr Pretorius grew up in Bridgetown, and matriculated at Bridgetown High School in Athlone. From 1980 to 1982, he returned to teach there.

His late parents, Johannes and Elizabeth Pretorius, were good examples for him, he said.

“My dad was a hard worker, he encouraged us to work for one person and stay committed to the job.”

Mr Pretorius had always wanted to be a teacher, the inspiration having stemmed from his Standard 5 (the equivalent of Grade 7) teacher, Mr Lewis, at Bridgetown East Primary School.

“He was very methodical and a perfectionist. I based my life on that.”

Mr Pretorius would number the pages in his workbook and frame them, to work within the lines, the same as the children did – so that they were all on the same page. This is what he learnt from Mr Lewis. This is what inspired him to work with excellence, he said.

Another inspiration for his love for teaching came from his high school principal, Joseph Titus.

“He was a stickler for discipline. He would always come to school well-dressed. Children would part ways when he walked down the hallway, he was well-respected by all, this caught my attention. I wanted to be like him and own that respect,” said Mr Pretorius.

Previous principals at Rocklands Primary, Neville November, who was the principal from 1980 to 1988, and Clive Schippers, from 1989 to 1996, were also among his role models, said Mr Pretorius. It was all about giving the children the best. He was encouraged to study further but never brought his work to school, he said.

Mr Pretorius started at Rocklands Primary in 1983 as the handwork and geography teacher and took over as principal in 1997. He said leaving the children would be the hardest part.

“They grow onto you; they always want to hug me. It was a difficult week for me,” he said.

Mr Pretorius recalls that 2012 was a significant year for him. It was then that he travelled to Japan, was nominated for the National Principal of the Year award in the primary schools category – and that he and his wife, Denise, celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.

Asked for the recipe of his success, he said: “Having a good staff is important. They can make or break you. They could see where I wanted to go, what my vision was for this school.”

At his final assembly, the interim principal Thoraiya Hassiem said she would miss Mr Pretorius.

“He takes the role of a father and a brother. We have a sincere gratitude for his participation in educational programmes and development at school. We wish you a joyous retired life, even though it was a sad day for us. Don’t be a stranger. Rocklands Primary School will always be a home for you.”

Principal of Duneside Primary School in Westridge, Clifford Chateau, who also served at Rocklands Primary alongside Mr Pretorius, said Mr Pretorius was respected and admired for his courageous convictions.

“You have given us the tools and confidence to become anything we set our hearts and minds to,” he said.

Grade 7 pupil, Phoebe Roelofse, 12, said she wished he could stay longer.

“You are a great principal and a great geography teacher. Thank you for your support.”

To this, another Grade 7 pupil, Hope Wehr, 12, added: “Your knowledge, vision and wisdom in turning this school into a place of hope and peace is of great importance to our generation. We promise you that we will continue to follow your path in greatness.”

His daughter, Lesley-Anne Pretorius, 37, from Heideveld, said: “I had a parent who was a teacher, and to me it was normal. Don’t think it was any different from growing up with a parent in any other profession. One of the coolest things was having someone at home with you during the school holidays.

“This led to many adventures to avoid the classic ‘I’m bored’ saying. Whether it was just going up the road or a long road trip. My dad had patience, positivity and perseverance throughout. He always made the most of each day, no matter what situation came his way.”

Mr Pretorius added: “The pupils have crept into my heart and they stay there. It has been a privilege sharing my life with this school. Former principals, Mr November and Mr Schippers are men with integrity and they’ve taught me what was important in life.

“The first thing that I am going to do is sleep and catch up on all the books I need to read since I have time. Saying goodbye is hard, but I need to make way for those who have to come after me. I will miss Rocklands Primary.”