“Real change only comes from being actively involved in communities and the environment.”
This was proven by an inspiring story where a powerful corporate company reached out to a struggling school and more than transformed it into a shining example of success, but also spirited it into a leadership position inspiring other schools to follow.
I am talking about Nedbank’s involvement with Stoneridge Primary School in Alberton as part of the Symphonia Partners for Possibility (PfP) Programme. This programme establishes a partnership between a business leader and a school principal from an under-resourced school for minimum period of a year.
Since 2012, the partnership – which sees Nedbank’s Sustainability Manager, Nina Wellsted, working hand in hand with Stoneridge Principal, Richard Carelse – has enabled the transformation of the school and its learners, educators and parents, into active and effective champions of change in the surrounding communities.
The learners come from various and highly diverse communities and stem from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds. They demonstrated a full spectrum of abilities and challenges across all subjects offered at Stoneridge.
Like many other schools in South Africa, Stoneridge faced many challenges, such as language barriers, below average reading skills, high levels of illiteracy, unmanageable class numbers, environmental neglect, bullying and substance abuse, a lack of learner discipline, a shortage of essential support services, non-payment of fees, no financial support for maintenance or sports facilities and minimal parental or community involvement.
When approached to partner with Nina Wellsted, Richard jumped at the chance. Together, these two passionate and driven individuals have spent the past 18 months learning valuable lessons from one another and realising Richard’s vision for the school he loves.
What is Partners for Possibility?
Symphonia seeks to mobilise citizens and communities to reclaim the responsibility for educating South Africa’s children rather than leaving education solely in the hands of government.
This happens primarily by placing schools at the centre of communities, thereby ultimately strengthening the fabric of South African society. The programme facilitates experienced business and community leaders to partner with school principals in under-resourced schools to strengthen and entrench their leadership abilities. They then enrol the community to engage with the school, become involved in the education of their youth, and help each other address and overcome challenges.
Principals sharing challenges and solutions
In order to create strong leadership and a professional support a close-knit network of principals from schools similar to Stoneridge was formed.
They met on a regular basis, with their PfP Partners, to discuss their challenges, share the solutions that have worked for them, and agree on best practices for the management and leadership of their schools. Outside of the formal meetings, this network of principals is in regular contact via telephone or email and serves as a valuable source of support, help and guidance for all those involved.
According to Richard, simply by being there for each other and learning from one another, the principals involved in this leadership circle have already grown in confidence and leadership ability. They have the security of knowing that they are not alone in the challenges they face, and this, combined with the knowledge they gain via the network, allows them to approach their roles with renewed vigour and passion.
Developing the principal as leader
Over the year Richard has grown in leadership stature and influence, not only within his school, but also in the community as a whole.
Gaining confidence as a leader, his understanding of the need for focused prioritisation and his ability to mobilise active involvement and partnership by all stakeholders has allowed him to drive the transformation of the school. He also came to understand his role from an entrepreneurial point of view. As a direct result of this paradigm shift, his role has been transformed from one in which he focused primarily on ‘putting out fires’ to one in which he acts as a visionary, leader and strong manager.
This created a knock-on effect with Richard’s educators and school management team members, many of who now feel confident enough to step up as leaders in their own fields.
“Thanks to my partnership with Nina, I am a more confident leader now. I lead from the front, by example, and with the knowledge that I am able to positively influence not just my staff and learners, but my entire community.”
Empowered and effective educators
Nina recognised the value that could be unlocked by introducing the school’s leadership, management and governing bodies to the Personal Mastery & LEAN methodology practiced at Nedbank, so Richard agreed to pilot the Nedbank Lean & Personal Mastery Academy at Stoneridge.
The sessions, facilitated through the Academy, covered Personal Mastery Skills including ‘Reality Awareness Conditioning’, ‘Belief Windows and Behaviour’ and ‘Cultivating a Winning Attitude.’
Vital LEAN management skills, including ‘Eliminating the 8 types of waste’ and ‘Promoting value-adding activities’, were also covered in the workshops.
Financial management training
A Nedbank Finance Manager spent time with the school’s finance team. While the initial intention was to introduce the team to basic financial management principles such as budgeting, project management and fundraising, the response was so positive and enthusiastic, that the session ended up delivering comprehensive financial management training, including in-depth strategic financial components – and led to the development of a comprehensive three-year financial strategy for the school.
Thereafter the teaching body displayed greater accountability and teamwork in addition to the ‘domino’ effect of motivating and mobilising these stakeholders to be highly proactive in initiating, managing and even sourcing funding for a variety of school projects.
The positive impacts have included the successful application for Lotto funds to put towards new sporting facilities and equipment, the promotion of the school Marimba band that competes successfully against other top school bands (and application for funding for new equipment), the installation of a large covered carport on the premises, and various other maintenance and improvement initiatives that have contributed significantly to enhancing the learning environment and instilling pride in learners, educators and the broader community.
An involved parent body and community
Before, Stoneridge had little to no involvement in the school by its parent body. Paper-based communications, sent home via the learners, seldom reached the parents or generated any significant response. As a result, school functions received dismal parent attendance and dealing with incidents or underperformance that needed parental involvement had become extremely difficult for the educators and principal.
Nina and Richard improved the two-way communication between school and parents, while also enhancing the levels of engagement and the sense of partnership between parents and educators. This by means of the implementation of an effective bulk SMS communications system and a homework diary system that requires parents to check and sign off homework assignments daily.
This has been very well received by the parents and parent evenings are enjoying significantly higher parent attendance, while daily communication lines between parents and the teachers are more open and constructive.
Taking sustainability to school
As Nedbank Retail’s Sustainability Manager, Nina has extensive experience in making sustainability a reality in South African schools and communities through their Caring for Communities programme. She leveraged this experience, and the strong volunteer contingent of Nedbank staff to deliver a rainwater harvesting tank, vegetable tunnel and solar cookers to Stoneridge.
Nedbank volunteers also spent a morning with the school’s grade 6 and 7 learners, educators and a number of community members, teaching them the practicalities of sustainability to enable them to fully maintain the new food-generating facilities the school now owns.
Readers are leaders & leaders are readers
“In addition to learning to read and understand better, these learners are gaining massive amounts of confidence in themselves and their own abilities and this has had a definite knock-on effect in terms of benefiting their performance in all their school subjects.” Richard Carelse
Learners now have valuable hands-on knowledge regarding sustainable living. The responsibility to manage and maintain these valuable facilities has also instilled renewed motivation and pride.
The school has taken massive strides forward in terms of enhancing the quality of educational outcomes amongst its learners. A sustainable reading programme was implemented via the introduction of the Stimulus Maxima Reading programme under the banner of ‘Readers are leaders and leaders are readers’.
“The learners have four reading lessons per week and their stellar improvement is matched only by their undying enthusiasm for these learning experiences. I have watched them as they line up for their reading lessons and the excitement they show is incredible.” Nina Wellsted
Creating a positive learning environment has delivered many additional benefits to learners apart from academic improvements.
Bullying and intimidation addressed
For instance, bullying and intimidation had long been a challenge at the school and was inhibiting the effectiveness of the education offered to learners. Richard and Nina introduced a highly effective customised anonymous bullying reporting system. He then proactively addresses the situation with the alleged perpetrators and, if necessary, escalates this to their parents.
An on-going litter challenge negatively impacted the levels of pride that learners felt in their school, so they introduced a ‘Litter Blitz’ initiative to encourage learners to become litter-minded and be more proactive in creating a cleaner, healthier, litter-free learning environment. Kicking off with a school-wide clean-up programme, it includes on-going awareness and education that is gradually causing a shift in mindset amongst the learners. This will culminate eventually in a fully-fledged recycling initiative, generating additional income for the school. Now learners can regularly be seen picking up litter on their school grounds. Some learners are even educating their families about keeping their environment clean.
Transformation all round
According to Nina this programme completely transformed her life. The friendship it allowed her to build with Richard has been life-changing and brought her to the realisation that she will never be truly satisfied in her life or career unless she is playing a role in improving and enhancing South Africa’s education.
This personal transformation in lives of the PfP partners is the true power of the programme. For principals and schools, the programme offers a fundamental change to the way they think, act and operate, resulting in tangible and sustainable improvements within the relatively short space of just one year.
For the business partners, the programme gives back so much more than the effort it requires. And by giving business individuals, like Nina, an understanding of the challenges our country’s schools face, and the recognition that they have the ability – in their personal capacity and using the resources at their company’s disposal – to help address those challenges, PfP has the potential to bring SA business and education together for the future benefit of both, and the country as a whole.
Understanding and inspiration gives meaning jobs
“I had no idea how much the programme would impact my life and my thinking. It has made me more determined than ever to contribute to making a difference in my corporate and personal capacity to our country with so much potential. I am truly blessed to be in a corporate environment which has enabled me to use my influence towards something so meaningful.” Nina Wellsted
“Before Partners for Possibility, I used to come to school every day and just work by default. My partnership with Nina has changed this completely, and I now have a passion for what I do, a sense of responsibility and accountability for my school and all the people involved in it, and a massive feeling of pride in what we have all been able to accomplish – and will continue to accomplish in the future.” Richard Carelse
A programme that transforms both partners… and the future.