This is how we do it: Top principals reveal secrets of success

They leave their homes as early as 4.30am and often return late in the evening. A number of them have done this for as long as they can remember.

The sacrifices are aimed at laying an academic foundation for thousands of young women, and securing the top positions in the national examinations.

Despite being mothers, wives and care givers, the women principals have not only distinguished themselves as go-getters but also as transformative leaders who have driven their respective schools to achieve academic excellence in a highly competitive environment.

The Sunday Nation spoke to a number of principals in girls school across the country to understand how they juggle their demanding work with family demands, from which they are kept for long periods.

Mrs Susan Owino, the principal of St Francis Rang’ala Girls in Siaya County whose school was ranked first in the county and 18th nationally – with 29 As and 113 A minuses – has a relatively young family.

Are still asleep

She knows she is expected home early to spend time with her children, but this is seldom possible.

She leaves home at 5am when the children are still asleep and returns at 10pm when they have already gone to bed.

"My husband and children only see me during the weekend, but they have no problem with that because they, too, understand the value of education," she said.

"It calls for a lot of sacrifice to produce good results, and the fact that my family understands the nature of my work keeps me motivated to go the extra mile in ensuring students perform well," said the holder of a master’s degree in educational administration.

Mrs Owino also draws her inspiration from God.

"The teachers give students reminder tests every lunch hour break, in the evenings and at the weekends, which are marked immediately before tutorial classes resume," she said.

Mrs Owino says she ensures that the school has enough chemical reagents and laboratory equipment for teachers to carry out practical lessons, something that has motivated students to develop an interest in science subjects.

The students are also put on a number of joint tests with neighbouring schools to rate their performance, usually after conclusion of the syllabus.

Girls, started by the Nakuru Catholic Diocese, also boasts enviable academic excellence.

Principal Hildah Muriuki has the school’s board of governors and parents to thank for the institution’s good results.

The mother of three says her family has been particularly supportive of her work to make excellent graduates of the girls at the school.

"My day-to-day activities start at 4.30am and end at 10.30pm every day," the 50-year-old said.

Mrs Muriuki says her children are old enough to depend on themselves, which has given her ample time to concentrate on the school. Bahati Girls finished in 5rth place among the top 100 schools nationally, with a total of 22 A-, 32 B+ and 20B grades.

Mrs Pacifica Nyambong’i of Pangani Girls High School (Nairobi) admits that juggling family life with school responsibilities was quite a challenge 23 years ago when she was first appointed head of a secondary school.

Honest above all else

"I got the promotion when my children were very young," she said. "I would often go home very late; my children were not happy at all."

“As school managers, we encounter challenges, but it’s only through maintaining a positive attitude that God can help you cope and bless you with good results,” Mrs Nyambong’i said.

She attributes Pangani’s success to honesty that plays a big role in the success of people and even institutions.

"Last year, when invigilators informed me that some students had mobile phones in the exam room, I took the initiative of calling the Kenya National Examination Council to inform them that some of my students had been caught with illegal materials in the examination school, which saved the whole school from carrying the individuals’ burdens," she said.

Results for seven girls were cancelled and marked ‘Y’ in the 2013 KCSE. Despite the setback, the school was graded and ranked 43 nationally. Fifteen students scored As, 70 A-, 98 B+, 47 B plain, 26 B-, 15 C+, two Cs, two C-, and seven Ys.

Mrs Muthoni Rutere of St Mary’s Girls’ high school at Igoji in Meru County said an understanding husband and children have helped her work towards good academic performance. She says women are always emotional, and whenever they encounter family challenges, their performance is likely to deteriorate.

"Young girls consider us their role models, and therefore you cannot afford to let them down," she said.

St Charles Lwanga Ichuni Girls’ Principal Mrs Joyce Orioki Ogutu’s day starts at 5a.m. and ends at 10p.m.

Since her children are old enough to fend for themselves, staying in the school until midnight is not unusual for her; they, she says, understand and revel in the joy of good results.

“My family has been very supportive; that is important to me,” says the mother of three.

Having been the school head for seven years, the route to success, she says, is through curriculum supervision, time management, and support from family members and the teaching staff.

Taking position two in Kisii County and position 65 nationally, Mrs Ogutu says she does not shun weak students, but tries to encourage them to work towards improving their grades.

“We try as much as possible to eliminate the C and D grades in our school,” she says. The school had 16 A-, 24 B+, 14 B-, 26 Cs, and two C+.

Mrs Mary Akunja, the principal Kisumu Girls’ High School, draws her inspiration from her husband who is an educationist and two daughters who are lecturers at local universities.

“My husband has worked as an education officer in the Ministry of Education for a long time; his wealth of experience in the education sector has richly inspired me,” says the mother of five.

“Family support is very vital because without it, it is difficult to make much of one’s work,” counsels Mrs Akunja.

She says being a school manager calls on one to be stout-hearted, as a head takes blame for failure as much as she takes credit for success.
Kisumu Girls’ was ranked 74 overall.

Bunyore Girls’ Principal Mrs Rose Shitsama says that as an institutional head and a family person, one must plan properly to balance on both fronts.
Like the rest, this, she says, becomes “doable” with an understanding and supportive family.

Engages students, teachers

“I come from a family background where people value education, and this has given me a leeway to come home late,” says Mrs Shitsama.

Her days begin at 4.30a.m. and ends at 10.30p.m. She maximises this time to ensure the girls are taught. During the weekends, she engages both teachers and students to sort out any pressing issues that may hinder good performance in the national examinations.

The school was ranked 75th countrywide.

At Asumbi Girls’ High, things are rather different for Sr Josephine Apiyo. She must address both religious and academic issues, and still work to achieve her main goals.

As a Catholic nun, she has to attend a morning Mass from 5a.m. to 7a.m. every day, meaning she reports to school at 7.30a.m. She goes back to the Convent at 10p.m.

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