Woodville Primary principal retires

The school choir sang a song at assembly for Keith Riddles.

The man who greeted with a smile and who gave his pupils a quick lesson on discipline and respect while they were on their way to class has said farewell to Woodville Primary School.

Keith Riddles, 65, from Bellville, had a bittersweet moment at his formal farewell with the staff and pupils on Friday July 12.

They sang to him, performed a dance routine from the 70s and recited poems, which they gave to him.

Mr Riddles has been teaching for more than 44 years. He spent 32 of those years at Woodville Primary School in Woodlands and 25 years as principal.

Mr Riddles’ last day of employment was at the end of the second term. He was, however, asked to manage the school until a new principal is elected in September this year.

Mr Riddles was inspired by his late father, William Riddles, who retired in 1988 after 25 years of teaching. “I saw in him a model of what I wanted to be,” he said.

Mr Riddles grew up in Bridgetown and has been involved in his church where he was the youth leader and Sunday school teacher.

“This has shaped my leadership abilities especially my ability to teach,” he said.

He matriculated from Alexander Sinton Secondary School in 1973.

He taught at Vanguard Primary School in Athlone for five years, then joined Nooitgedacht Primary School in Bishop Lavis in 1980.

In 1987, Mr Riddles stepped into Woodville Primary School and was appointed as principal in 1995. “I have learned that we should not be autocratic in our leadership or our teaching, we cannot make decisions on our own,” he said.

Woodville Primary School has overcome many hurdles and there were still many challenges to face.

“We are facing the scourge of poverty, drug abuse, burglaries and gangsterism. We remember our pupils who have died by violent means,” he said.

“Back then we had 22 children in our classrooms, and today we have over 40 children in the classroom. I have been part of this community for 32 years and we all grew together. It was a rough ride with parents but our relationships are even stronger now,” he said.

Secretary Pam Matthys has known Mr Riddles for 25 years at Woodville.

She said Mr Riddles meant a lot to her. “He was a mentor, father, people’s person, and kind hearted. We wish him well and we will miss him.”

Mr Riddles said a memory from his childhood also contributed to the type of teacher he was.

When Mr Riddles was in Grade 4, he received tickets to the bioscope and a basket of fruit from his Grade 4 teacher, Mr Daniels, as he was the top pupil. “Mr Daniels was caring and had good relationships with people.”

Deputy principal, Lester Felix, who taught at Woodville for 39 years with Mr Riddles, said that he too was a father and a man of God. “He served the entire community, he gets here early and leaves last even if it means he should drop the pupil who missed their lift home. Everybody will miss him and he should enjoy his well-deserved retirement.”

Grade 7 pupil, Amy Adams, 12, said she wanted to leave school but Mr Riddles encouraged her to stay. “He encouraged me to work very hard and to never give up.”

Grade 7 pupil, Mogammad Sedick Williams said: “I will miss his kindness, he inspires me. When he talks, he speaks the truth. He teaches us what is good and bad and he is always around when you need him, always there to help.”

Mr Riddles said he will miss the hugs of children “with their snotty winter noses, the loud boisterous greetings” when he visited the classes, “their tears when they get hurt and their smiles when they came to the kitchen. I will take these memories with me,” he said.

“To the next person in the principal’s seat, learn how the school functions, make gradual changes and win the right to be heard.

“Thank you so much to the community of Mitchell’s Plain and the education fraternity for accepting me. Continue serving your school,” said Mr Riddles.