How I successfully grew a village school to a national school


By Sam Vidambu

How I successfully grew a village school to a national school

I was sitting inside my small office near the staffroom. Alone. I was lost in the gloom. I had cried enough, there was no more tears out of my eyes. I pretended to be fine yet I was bleeding from the inside.

Few days earlier I had gotten my transfer letter. I had been delocalised from my station to that school. I did not like the move. I was moved from a school in town to a school which was 50 kilometres off the tarmack road. I left a school getting mean of 6.7 to a school getting 3.2.

I left a county school for a village school. I left a boys boarding school with a population of 700 for a mixed day school which only had 180 students. I left a school which was 51 years old for a school which was 7 years old. I left a school that had an average entry behaviour of 330 for one with 205.

TSC had broken my heart, wounded my soul and bruised my ego. I was on the verge of quitting. I felt lonely, depressed, sad and empty. I felt not important anymore.

One day earlier I had been rejected by the sponsor and the Board. The sponsor argued that I was not a believer of their religion. The Board did not want me because I was not a member of the community.

Some of them thought I was unskilled and unaware, others said I was overconfident and incompetent, many said I was optimistic and under-qualified, and even more thought I was unrealistic and underage.

I was going through trials and tribulations. I was surrounded by enemies left, right and center. I ssage mocked, criticized, discouraged and constantly threatened. I was being rejected where I had rejected.

The deputy principal was not on my side. She was fighting me too. Before I went to that school, there was a culture of promoting deputies to be heads in that school. She was fighting me with an aim of being the head.

As days went by, I developed thick skin. When I went through the fire of rejection I did not burn, I was refined.

Number one, I set my mind right, I learnt the mechanics of the school and made quick decisions. I knew that all the academic success is based on the state of the mind not the size of the school. I had a mental transformation and mindset shift.

I talked to myself and told myself that I was the one in charge. Yes, the board was against me but I was the one in control. I knew that the best revenge was massive success. I realized that the school was not based on any foundation, principles or values.

The first thing was to instill the foundation of self-belief into everybody in the school compound, from the gate to the kitchen, classroom to the staffroom. I did not want it to look like I was changing things because most of them would not accept.

I sought to give information then this information would make them make the change I wanted. I knew that going to a new station and starting to dictate things without a plan would cause chaos and revolt.

Number two, I made my team. I knew that for me to achieve my target that year I had to know who was for me and who was against me. I knew that progress would not be achieved if we had any form of negative energy within us.

I had to ensure that the deputy was promoted, she was in the same job group with me so she thought she would control the school at the same time when I was there. When the deputy left, all the teachers who had been previously against me sailed on my boat.

Number three, I realized that school is results and then school is numbers. Within me, I came to the realization that the success of a school is not judged by the infrastructure, size of the compound or excellence in sports, it’s judged by the academic results.

I knew that this results would draw numbers. Every form one would want to join us so long as we constantly improved. Everyone would wish to join a school that does well year in year out.

Number four, I knew what I wanted and I was determined to get what I wanted. There is no school that began as a national school. I was always after progress. We worked with numbers.

I always believed that success was a game of numbers. Our target was 4.0169437258. Every student had to keep that target in mind, even the form ones. I would call students randomly in my office to tell me our school target.

This made the students work towards achieving it by all means. They never forgot what they were after. Setting a goal like 4.0 would not make the students think about it so much as compared to 4.0169437258.

Number five, sometimes it is not about the the classroom, but rather the staffroom. Being a head was not an easy thing as people used to think. I had to make hard decisions. I made alot of enemies.

At times I had to make personal sacrifices for the betterment of the school, at times I had to sacrifice others. Sometimes I had to be unkind to be kind. Stakes were too high, times were too serious. I did not entertain mediocrity from anyone.

I realized that not everyone who was on my side was actually working towards achieving my goal. I ensured the staffroom was more busy than the classroom. That school was seven years old, we were to do KCSE for the fourth time.

I knew that if we improved from 3.2 to 4.0169437258 then the teachers would be praised. But if we dropped from 3.2 to 2.8 then I would be blamed. I did not entertain any form of jokes with my teachers.

I made them see that it was not about the number of figures they were withdrawing from the ATM over the end months, but about the number of students going to the university from our school the following year. This was my team, my army, my camp.

I knew that every military camp has boundaries and walls. I would not allow anyone to trespass. Work was always done. There was no substitute. Everyone in the school was doing something to help in the achievement of our goal.

Number six, I empowered departments. I realised that the main reason why most day schools do not grow is because the head of departments were not empowered. They were just given tittles. When the principal had taken all the powers, the head of departments became powerless.

When the heads of departments were powerless they could not make good decisions on behalf of their departments because they said, ‘It is the Principal to decide, not me.’

They ended up fearing the principal like a plaque. I empowered each and every department, so long as their decisions were based upon the achievement of our target I would fully support.

Number seven, I reduced the distance between the students and I. I did not want to have a principal-student relationship, I wanted to have a father-child relationship. I wanted to be a father figure, a role model and a mentor.

For me to accomplish this, I was to be so close with the students. I would be the one praying in the parade for them in the morning. I would have talks with the candidates together with the class teacher.

I did it so well that there was respect from them but also no fear. I knew that if students would fear me they would hate me, and that would be the recipe for academic failure.

Number eight, I started system I realized that there is no secret to success, but there are systems to success. I developed my system. 3.6.9 was a system used in form one and form two.

This culture was one where by March we should have finished a third of the syllabus coverage, by June we should have completed two thirds of the syllabus, and by September we should have cleared the syllabus.

In form three and form four combined, was the system which was used. By February, a third of the form three syllabus should have been done, by April two thirds of the form three syllabus should have been done, by June all the form three syllabus should have been done, by August a third of form four work should have been completed, by October two thirds of firm four work should have been finished, before the following year on February, the form four syllabus should have been finished.

After this we began teaching form fours from form one work topically. We dwelt more on topical revision.

Number 9, I could not see a miracle so I created one. We followed our system. Before the candidates sat for their KCSE, we had gone through their notes from form one to form four twice. They had developed working personal timetables which they followed while at home.

We were a day school but looked like a boarding school because all the students used to wake up at 5AM and slept at 9:30PM in the evening. During their preps at home, they made their timetables in such a way that they would study one topic in each subject every day.

When they came to school in the morning, they would spend time from 6:30AM to 8AM answering questions from their subject teachers on the topics they had studied yesterevening and that morning during home preps. This sharpened their brains to master content right from form one. When KCSE was released, we had created a miracle.

We had improved from 3.2 to 4.9. For the first time in the history of the school we had taken 18 students to the university out of 42. I could not believe it. I got congratulatory messages from every person.

We became a subcounty school, straight from a school without any status. I knew that if I just relaxed someone else would overtake me the following year.

Number ten, know the rules and then break them. People said that we were lucky. Others said we would never achieve that performance again. I kept my faith. I was determined to draw my curve. I was the master of my fate. We repeated our cultures and systems of topical home preps, topical morning exams,

We even became more ambitious, we were now targeting 6.84329156. Everybody came on my side, the sponsor, the board, parents, community, everyone came to support my dream of making the school great. We got numbers of form ones wanting to join our school in heavenly proportions. We could not absorb all of them.

The area MP had pledged to give 10 million shillings to most improved school in the constituency. We happened to be the ones. We used that money to develop our infrastructure.

The academic year came to an end, exams were released and by the grace of God we had improved again from 4.9 to 6.2. We took 35 out of 51 direct to the university. For the second consecutive time, we were the most improved school in the constituency.

We became the center of excellence and a county school. We built a new administration block, two dormitories, new modern labs, and more classrooms.

We had already constructed two other form one classrooms by the money we received the previous year from the constituency, so we had three streams in form one. Being a county school, more classrooms were constructed to cater for the growing population.

Within a span of two years, a one streamed school without a status and a population of 180 was a three streamed school with a population of 560. Our entry behaviour had improved from 205 to 270. I knew what worked for me, I kept on repeating the academic systems and cultures I had previously used.

On my third year we were targeting 8.7528963 but we got 7.5. The school was now changed to be a pure boy school with form three and fours to be boarders. We were no longer admitting girls. On the other side of the fence, a girl school was formed. We did not know that we were creating room as the school was destined for greatness.

I repeated my way of getting results and we achieved 7.99 on my fourth year in that school. We just missed few points to reach 8.0. We had constructed more classrooms and the school was now a four streamed school. We had a population of over 800 with over 150 form fours.

To cut the long story short, within five years we had become a pure boys national school with over 1850 students and a mean of 9.2 in KCSE and average entry behaviour of 397.

This was due to the systems, foundation and cultures I integrated into the school. I was trying to win the battles that my predecessors did not win. I was determined not just to go where there was a path but to go where there was no path and leave a trail. I was determined to break the chains of stagnation and failure in that school.

I was going for everything that people said I would never have. I wanted to prove everybody wrong. At first, I did not know how it felt to be a principal of a national school but I was determined to make a national school out of nothing. I did not have a god father in the education ministry.

I did not have any connections or networks. It was just blood, sweat and tears. I was just an ordinary school head with a dream to make something out of nothing.

Bwana Principal, Madam Principal, I know how it feels to be taken to a village in the middle of nowhere to start a school, I understand the pain of being to a school with an entry behaviour of 150, I know the pain of being delocalised seven counties away from home, I understand the pain of thinking that you will be promoted to be a head of a school in town only to be given fifteen children, sand, murram, and stones, and then told to start a school.

Mwalimu, you can do it. Just Start. Start with that 180 marks student. Start with your fears. Start with your doubts. Start with the rejection. Start with your small school. Start and never stop.

They are always talking about you. During subcounty KESSHA meetings you are always ashamed because your school is always tailing. You are not a looser.

You are a conqueror, overcomer and warrior. Turn your fortunes. Your struggles are shaping you for greatness. Madam, do not wait for the light at the end of the tunnel, be the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sir, do not wait for a miracle to happen in your school, create a miracle in your school. Sir, do not accept to walk on land when you can spread your wings and fly.

Do not accept to swim on water when you can walk on it. Let the world know your name. Sometimes it’s not about the ability but about the appetite. Success is in your veins, DNA of greatness flows within you. You did not come this far to only come this far.

You did not become a head just to be a head. Nothing can stop you. Go for it Madam, Go for it Sir. Start with your current candidates. These five months can make a difference.
You can do it. You are a warrior. Go to war and win.


Sam Vidambu is an Academic Mentor.

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