By MALUM NALU
George Kenega is dressed casually, a man under a lot of pressure since the 2019 school year began this week, when I step into his office on Tuesday this week.
He is the principal of Gordon Secondary School, one of the largest and top schools in the country and the heat is on.
That is despite the Monday night downpour which has left the place looking so fresh and green.
“We have 44 teachers,” Kenega tells me as he wipes the sweat from his brows.
“Yesterday we had only half of the staff present.
“We had 23 persons with another 21 to come.”
Kenega, like an army general, runs the school with military precision and this is already worrying him.
Things must be done on time.
“This week is in fact the preparation week for teachers,” he adds.
“We have resumed and are preparing for lessons next week.”
One of the biggest challenges for Gordon this year is that the school has been given more students than classrooms can cater for.
“Previously, we used to have seven grade nines, seven grade 10s, seven grade 11s and seven grade 12s,” Kenega says.
“In each of those classrooms, we had less than 50 (students), at the most.
“We tried to keep it that way so that students are not deprived of their learning.
“When you have too many students, learning is not really taking place.”
Little wonder that Gordon is among the top 10 schools in the country for both Grades 10 and 12.
“Last year, we were given two awards,” Kenega beams proudly.
“The previous year we were given two awards.
“We continue to get that because of the standard we set here.
“The calibre of students I select for Grade Nine are those who score 100-plus out of 150.
“My feeder schools are Wards Strip, Hohola Demonstration and Coronation.
“Last year, all the Grade Eight students have done very, very well.
“The cut off is 80 and almost half of the students have scored 80 and above.
“At Wards Strip, there were more than 500 students eligible for Grade nine, but I only took a few.
“I picked some from Hohola, I picked some from Coronation.
“The education division, however, gave me so many that we have to look for ways to cater for them.
“I’m thinking of partitioning the hall so that we have classes in there.
“When we have assemblies, we will have to move the partitions away and use it as an assembly hall.
“That’s the only choice I have because there aren’t enough classrooms.
“That is the biggest challenge we have.
“Otherwise, if we have classrooms, we can get more students.
“Classrooms are the problem.
“If the Education Department or NCD education division builds one double classroom at a school every year, then we should be able to cater for this.
“Otherwise, Gordon is a very good school and all parents want their children to come here because our academic standards are very, very high.
“Every year, our Grade 10s do very, very well.
“Last year, we had 327 students who sat for the exams: 311 were eligible for Grade 11.
“Of the other 27, not all sat for exams, with some withdrawing and all that.
“Every student at Gordon Secondary School is enrolled on merits.”
In terms of ranking on the national scale, Gordon was fourth out of more than 300 secondary schools in the country for Grade 10s, and eighth overall for Grade 12s.
I ask Kenega how Gordon continues to do so well year-in year-out.
“There’s no secret,” he replies.
“It depends on the students that you select, and the teachers.
“You must select very good students, and you must have very good teachers to teach them.
“Once you do that, they will set the standard for you.
“If I select any student from the street and put them in, or get any teacher from the street and put them in, obviously there will be no standard.
“We must make sure that the teachers teach, that they do their duties.
“My job is to not just sit in this office and drive in and out.
“My job is to make sure that the school is operating as normal as possible every single day.
“That means teaching must take place from period one to period eight.
“A teacher must be in the classroom teaching.
“Students must not be left alone.
“I move from class to class to check if the teachers are teaching.
“When teachers see me doing that, they stay back and teach.
“Sometimes, when they see that I’m not around, they just take off.”
Last year Gordon had a student population of 1,257 and 44 teachers.
“We need more teachers, to be honest,” Kenega admits.
“Because of the influx of students, we need more teachers.
“The Teaching Service Commission needs to give us some teachers, although there are some formalities we have to undergo to get more teachers.
“Last year, our teachers were overloaded.
“The maximum number of periods a teacher can teach (in a week) is 30, but because of shortage of teachers, some teachers were teaching 35-36 periods.
“There’s no rest.
“Right now we have 40 (teachers).
“If we have at least 50 that should be okay.”
Kenega says the student population at Gordon will increase this year because of the bigger allocation to the school.
“It’s going to be a challenge for the school,” he says.
“We are going to have more students and 44 teachers.
“They teach according to the subjects they specialise in.
“We cannot have too many social science teachers, and not for the other subjects.
“That is the challenge.
“At Gordon this year, I’m looking for home economics teachers, expressive arts teachers, practical skills teachers because those teachers are hard to find.”
“Mathematics and physics teachers are hard to find, but I’m lucky to have teachers in those areas.”
This is Kenega’s fifth year as principal of Gordon.
He was deputy principal at De La Salle Secondary at Bomana for six years before moving to Gordon.
He has been teaching for 20 years now all over the country.
Kenega, from Nebilyer in Western Highlands, is a man on a mission as the 2019 academic year begins.
With such a captain, Gordon Secondary School can’t sink, but will keep on floating.
By MALUM NALU