By Ruschka Jaffer*
Teachers at Fourways High School in Johannesburg are handing out awards of appreciation to their school leadership to thank them for guiding them through this pandemic. They are painfully aware that their experience is not the rule across the country.
Whilst a nation locked down on April 20 2020, Fourways High School geared up. By the time the education minister announced that all teachers would return to school on 25 May, the school had a response plan ready.
The school governing body (SGB) and the school leadership team (SLT) instituted a Covid Management Team (CMT) lead by Deputy Principal Garth Nielson and SGB member Marius Greyling. The team developed a 28-page policy document after studying all relevant Government Gazettes, including the Disaster Management Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
It engaged with the Department of Employment and Labour, Health, Gauteng Department of Basic Education as well as the School Governing Body organizations.
It further participated in critical webinars to assist in preparing and managing the process of reopening Fourways High School. The school has 1300 learners and over 80 teaching and non-teaching staff. Those serving on the Covid Management Team include the deputy principals, teaching and non-teaching staff, parents serving on the SGB, grounds staff, as well as members of security.
Since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the nationwide lockdown on March 27, Acting Deputy Principal Andrew Holliday took swift action in setting up a comprehensive online programme following a revised timetable on the most secure platform on the market – MS Teams. With daily briefings at 7:30 and lessons beginning at 8 am, Fourways High School created a structured environment to ensure continued support to both learners and staff.
Although getting off to a bumpy start and overcoming fear and resistance to technology, the online programme proved successful and has been running ever since. At the same time, the school development programme continued to fulfill their mandate. Run by teachers and supported by parents, the programme ensures all learners have an equal opportunity to succeed and no learner or their family gets left behind. Food parcels, household necessities, data and anything needed was sourced from funders and often paid for by teachers themselves and delivered to those in need.
At a high functioning school the staff usually works hard, but in the face of a global pandemic, the teachers at Fourways High School rose to the challenge and worked harder than ever.
June 1 will see 226 matric learners return to the premises. The transition back to school won’t be easy. Learners will be screened and register taken as they enter and leave school grounds. Each learner will be given two facemasks and taught how to social distance correctly as well as the importance of a new way of life at school to ensure safety for all.
Going forward, in light of the uncertainty facing the nation, the teachers at Fourways High School feel assured that the school leadership has prioritized their well-being and those of learners and non-teaching staff. It is uncertain what the opening of schools will mean for the death toll in the country and whether this was the right thing to do. What is certain however is that Fourways High School has shown its teachers, learners and their parents the effect good leadership, planning, and delivery can have on a cohort of people.
The school is happy to share its compliance policies and procedures. They can be accessed on its website at www.4ways.co.za.
*Ruschka Jaffer is a teacher at Fourways High School.