Stalwart teacher leaves legacy at Westridge

Principal Wendy Vergotine retires from Westridge High School.

Retiring Westridge High School principal Wendy Vergotine has impacted the lives of more than 7 000 pupils.

This is an average figure the once mathematics teacher calculated, based on the number of Grade 8 pupils she addressed for several years.

Ms Vergotine is now looking forward to taking a break and travelling with the suitcase gifted to her by the school.

“My time in education, both here (Westridge) and at Glendale High School was extremely rewarding. I have enjoyed being in the teaching profession. It was an integral part of my life,” she said at her farewell brunch with staff on Thursday December 13.

Ms Vergotine started her teaching career at Glendale, in Rocklands, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1982 and a Higher Education diploma the following year, both from the University of Cape Town.

In her second year at Glendale she was appointed acting head of department (HOD) for mathematics but became HOD at Westridge High School in 1989.

She taught mathematics to Grade 8 and Grade 12 pupils until 1996.

In 1994 she complete a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Stellenbosch.

She called school, where she spent a minimum of eight hours a day, her second home.

“Seeing our children excelling academically, enjoying themselves in athletics and other sporting codes, them developing their character and beautiful personalities, made me very happy,” she said.

Ms Vergotine said it had always been her passion to motivate and encourage pupils to strive for the best and to set high goals for themselves.

“So today there are so many making a positive contribution – doctors, lawyers, sportspeople and the list is endless,” she said.

Ms Vergotine introduced matric camps at Westridge High, to which she invited community organisations to present opportunities.

“As visionary leaders we see beyond the immediate challenges and we guide our children towards the importance of making the right decisions in life,” she said.

After discussions with a former pupil now acclaimed poet, philanthropist and businessman Athol Williams, they instituted the Taurus project, to develop the staff to cope with the challenging behaviour of pupils. He also donated 800 chairs to the school.

Another former pupil, Professor Shaheed Hartley, the director of UWC’s Science Learning Centre for Africa (UWC-SLCA), contributed to improving the teaching and learning of science and mathematics in disadvantaged schools and helped establish a new science lab.

In 2011 the school was provincial and national runner-up in the soccer Kay Motsepe Cup, winning cash to the value of R700 000, which was used to cover the cost of fencing, improving infrastructure and upgrading the admin block.

Ms Vergotine wants to continue motivating youth during her retirement.

She said assemblies were vital in encouraging and inspiring pupils to reach their potential, which she sees but they do not always recognise.

Ms Vergotine initiated a programme which acknowledges top academic performers in each grade and each subject; she was the school project manager of the Khanya project, establishing computer labs at the school for the first time and also made the school’s Khanya computer lab available for telematics broadcasts in mathematics, English and Afrikaans.

She also got to experience teaching abroad, in the Netherlands, as she spearheaded the internet twinning project between Westridge and Agnieten College in 2006.

Teacher Craig Yon who summarised Ms Vergotine’s education history, said retiring as a teacher was one thing but retiring as a principal was more significant.

“It is mountain of administration weight off your shoulders. It’s an ocean of fresh air rushing in to takes its place. All the sunshine is now available for you to enjoy,” he said.

“The difficult parents, demanding officials from the departments and so on can now be replaced with friends in a coffee shop, a mall, or in the comfort of your own home.”