Principal takes a bow after 38 years

Marcia Woolward, principal of Grassy Park High School, retired last term.

Exactly 38 years and 11 months after she started teaching, Marcia Woolward retired as principal from Grassy Park High School at the end of last term.

She was the only female high school principal in the Grassy Park and Steenberg area and survived the challenges of working in a male-dominated environment.

“During the 11 years of being a principal, there had been few female principals but I am happy to say there were other female principals at schools in Mitchell’s Plain and Wynberg such as Immaculata and Wynberg Girls’ High, as well,” she said.

When asked how teaching was in the olden days, Ms Woolward remembered there was a bigger staff complement of 60 members and a
1 000 pupils.

Although it was challenging to work in a male-dominated environment, she said Mr Kiewietz, who was the principal at the time, created space for her to grow.

“He gave me the challenge when I became head of department, to put me in charge of the exam committee. As a young woman working with older men, it went well.”

Ms Woolward grew up and still lives in Grassy Park. Her father Kenneth Hagen was a teacher, who died when she was 6 years old, and her sister Brenda Erasmus, also a retired teacher, is currently helping with projects for extramural classes as well as doing parent development and more at primary schools such as Kannemeyer and Sid G Rule.

Besides having relatives who are teachers, Southern Mail asked Ms Woolward why she wanted to become a teacher. “In the 1980s there were very scary stats in coloured and black schools as only three percent of teachers taught maths and science. I was doing a BSc at the time when the political arena of the kind of education, you know the gutter education, came through. I thought there was a need for qualified science teachers and that also determined my choice of school. I was offered posts at Livingstone and South Peninsula, my alma mater, but those schools already had science teachers but not this school (Grassy Park High).”

Ms Woolward, a divorced mother of four children including one step-son, said: “The youngest is 22 years old and the oldest 29. I have three sons and one daughter who is currently teaching in Vietnam. This is her third year now.”

One son is in law, one in the health profession and the youngest one “hasn’t found his feet yet,” she said.

Ms Woolward’s motto is even though she doesn’t decide for children which career to choose, she would like to make a difference in the child’s life’s choices.

“When you deal with a difficult child there is always a story behind it. Teachers need to establish behaviour changes. It is sad to find out the reasons in behavioural patterns are for example, that parents are drug users and children are being taken care of by grandparents or uncles.

“A boy in Grade 9 burnt another boy with hot scissors that he heated up with a lighter. We
found out later that his father was living on the streets.”

Bringing in faith was one of the policies the school practised. “We have regular conversations about religion and we employed a semi-permanent counsellor. Her place is always full. We deal with cases such as pregnancy, depression to the point of suicide, drug addiction and abuse. These are serious issues and we are aware of what the children are going through.”

Ms Woolward said she enjoys seeing the transformation when children who go through challenges at school turn out to be great.

“Once I bumped into one of our ex learners and he looked at me so bashful, and said, ‘Ms I’m sorry I was such a naughty boy and gave you such a hard time but I am now the manager at Woolworths.”

He was one of those naughty boys. “Young people challenge you today. One teacher asked me when are we going to get the discipline right. And I told her we are never going to get the discipline right because there are always going to be a new group of learners coming in and we have to start from scratch.”

Her advice to the new principal is:“Have a lot of patience – when faced with a problem, there are always two sides to a story. Before you go into judgement you need to listen to both parties involved. If a child does something wrong, you need to find out why, before you judge him.””

She said the school’s “vision speaks about holistic development and for me not every child is an academic, so you need to try and provide opportunities for them. For example we have a rowing club which we had partnered with Zeekoevlei High. There were three pupils who took part in a national event in 2015 it has increased to 23 participants this year.”

Although Ms Woolward’s future plans are not set in stone, she would not be sitting still.

“I was invited by former colleagues to come on board mentoring principals. I wouldn’t mind tutoring but I don’t want a permanent teaching post.”