I am privileged and honoured to be appointed as Principal of St Fergal’s College. Our school has a proud and successful history including its many academic, vocational and sporting achievements. It’s also a school with the potential for a great future because of its staff, students, parents and numerous friends.
The cornerstone of St Fergal’s is its highly professional and enthusiastic teaching staff. Their ability and care is invaluable. A very recent example of that professionalism was when a teacher asked a student, who had just transferred to us from another school, as to how she was settling in and about her family. This teacher has no formal pastoral care role for the particular student but acted appropriately in terms of decency and education. It’s these seemingly small things which are important for student welfare and also provide a window to view the true human spirit of our school.
The Board of Management led by Cllr John King is very supportive as we all work together, staff, students and parents, in the face of the pandemic. Our Covid-19 School Response Plan is in place and we have succeeded in following the Department’s guidelines on important matters such as social distancing. While it’s sad to witness the recent closure of the Church of Ireland Rathdowney National School, for so long an important landmark in the town, it has proven advantageous for us in terms of accommodating our now increased number of First Years. The school is a short walk from our main building and is now referred to as the St Fergal’s College First Year Campus. It is part of our overall health and safety strategy in providing each year group with its own largely self-contained area.
We have managed also to secure additional teachers from the Department of Education and Skills, over and above the improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio, in support of our implementation of the social distancing requirements. This means that we have increased teacher provision at Junior Cycle level and smaller class sizes. I am confident that our students will benefit educationally from this. They deserve to because they, as with other young people internationally, have had their education interrupted by school closure due to the pandemic. Notwithstanding the general difficulties, we are glad to facilitate a return to school for our pupils who need the socialisation, wellbeing and other educational benefits of actually being in school.
The teachers in St Fergal’s College have shown remarkable resilience and creativity in addressing the teaching and learning challenges presented by the new dispensation. We are currently developing our capacity to share individual teacher expertise with one another. An important example of this is the work being done by a number of teachers who have advanced ability and skills in the area of online teaching and learning. They are sharing their expertise with other teachers, for the ultimate benefit of our students. Research into what makes some schools highly effective shows that this type of team work and sharing of expertise is of critical importance. In this, and other ways, St Fergal’s is a professional learning community ready for the challenges of the 21st century as well as from the pandemic. I plan to continue with this and other evidence-based approaches to make teacher practices professionally transformative with improved outcomes for our students.
I would like to thank parents, guardians and students for your patience and co-operation with the implementation of our health and safety procedures. As you are probably aware we have taken a particularly conscientious approach. While we are not qualified medical practitioners we are concerned to do our best to keep everyone in the school community safe. As teachers we look forward to better days ahead.
Finally, I want to thank our outgoing Principal Dominic McEvoy for his support and assistance as I stepped into his previous role. Dominic made many friends during his two years in St Fergal’s and is respected by all for his decency and generosity with his time and knowledge. He made a positive impact and in many ways personified the spirit of our school. I wish him well in his retirement.