A principal who knows every child by name

Lynne O'Connor

Disclosure: Lynne O’Connor is a senior member of the Eyewitness News team. Her children attend Rivonia Primary School. She has chosen to distance herself from reporting on the matter in the news, for ethical reasons.

I’ve known Carol Drysdale – we call her “K” – for the last eight years.

She’s been at Rivonia Primary School for the last 30 years, teaching some of my friends as far back as the 80s and now giving instruction to my own children.

I’ve known her to be a strict headmistress, enforcing discipline and respect in a school of around eight hundred children. Otherwise stroppy 13-year-olds stand at attention and greet “K” and other teachers as they pass, looking them in the eyes.

She commands respect.

But I’ve also seen the passionate side of “K” – the side that has kept her at this former Model C School for the last three decades, turning down numerous offers from private schools.

I’ve watched as she’s attended pyjama parties and read stories to her “Grade naughties”, as she affectionately calls her Grade 0s.

I and many other parents have heeded her discreet call for help, when children come to school hungry, having not eaten a proper meal, sometimes for days, because their parents are too poor to buy food.

She’s found work for other parents, who haven’t been able to feed or clothe their children and has waived their school fees.

Carol Drysdale knows the name of every single child in her school. She’s that passionate about her children.

So it’s with sadness that I’ve watched as “K” and Rivonia Primary School have been thrust into the spotlight over the school’s admission policy.

The school has been called “racist” and “classist”. It’s been slammed for refusing some children entry, while granting a place for others.

A place in Rivonia Primary School highly sought after. Private schools line up every year, begging to admit her children into Grade 8. The Gauteng Education Department can brag that Rivonia is one of the highest performing schools in the province.

So it’s no wonder so many people are fighting to get their children into the school.

But I refuse to feel sorry for parents who don’t get their papers in order, who apply late and then demand admission to the school. Why should their children be allowed to be taught at Rivonia Primary, when over 120 other parents were able to get to the school on time, with the correct documents and admission fee?

I will support the school, when they throw parents out for screaming racist profanity at the office staff, because of their own inefficiency.

It makes me angry that another child gets into the school through alleged political connections, when I and dozens more parents had to queue outside, in the cold, from 4am.

Why is it, that when children are not given access to the school, that race enters the picture? Really?

Yes, I know the country continues to battle inequality in all spheres. Why should my child get a good education, while another is forced to learn under a tree?

But should the thousands of children, black and white, from so-called former Model C Schools, get a substandard education because of government bureaucracy?

Should we force 40, 50 or 60 children into one classroom, only to ensure that all children in government schools get a poor education?

Why should the parents find extra money to pay for workbooks that the department has (still) failed to deliver; to hire extra teachers; to build extra classrooms because the Education Department hasn’t found the time to do so?

Why isn’t the Education Department fixing what is wrong with schooling in the country, instead of interfering in schools that are working?

Can Barbara Creecy not implement programmes of mentorship, where principals like Carol Drysdale work with colleagues in areas where schools aren’t performing well?

Why doesn’t that same MEC draw on the years of experience that many of these principals have, and use it to her advantage to build up poor performing schools?

I’m a mom – a heartbroken one - battling to get my children through school, wishing that all children had equal education and praying that a woman of character, passion and commitment like Carol Drysdale is allowed to go back to ‘her children’.

Follow Lynne O'Connor on Twitter: @LynneEWN.