Sapphire Road Primary head recalls challenges
AFTER 15 years as principal of Sapphire Road Primary School, Bruce Damons is passing on the baton after transforming the Booysen Park school into a place of hope and opportunity for both parents and pupils.
Under his leadership, the school has opened a clinic, a wellness centre, vegetable gardens and a library and built two security points manned by unemployed parents to tackle crime and vandalism.
There are now 45 volunteers – all unemployed young people and parents – at the school. They have various responsibilities, from garden work, manning the library and clinic, to working in the office and cleaning the toilets.
Damons, 48, a father of two, will be taking up a new role as a lecturer at NMMU’s education faculty next year. He will be teaching honours students leadership and research.
He also hopes to work at the university’s centre for community schools, which aims to promote, strengthen and support the work of community schools in the Eastern Cape.
When Damons arrived at the school in February 2000 it was a far cry from what it is today.
“When I arrived here, 90% of the windows were broken. There were 500 pupils enrolled with 14 teachers in excess,” he said.
“There were break-ins and crime every day. I remember one occasion where some male teachers and I actually slept at the school one night in order to catch one person who was constantly breaking in.”
Damons was only 33 when he took over as principal after teaching Grade 12 languages at Hillside High School – making him the youngest principal in the metro at the time.
“We had a policy conference with churches, parents, teachers and political leaders, where out of the 50 resolutions only two were academic. The rest were all social challenges faced by the school and the community,” he said.
“It was then that we decided that we needed to address these challenges if we were ever going to help the school.”
Damons remains humble about his work at the school and maintains that nothing would have been possible without the assistance of parents and committed teachers and staff.
“Our clinic is run by volunteers and we also have the House of Hope, where kids can go when they are in trouble,” he said.
“We identified the need when around 2005 a Grade 6 pupil needed to run away from a fight at her home and she ran straight towards a group of men who gang-raped her.”
He said the House of Hope had since evolved into a wellness centre with a volunteer educational psychologist who saw everyone from pupils and teachers to complete families.
Damons, who has been named the best primary school principal in South Africa for his innovative fund-raising projects, has also ensured parents receive carpentry and dress-making classes, and HIV/Aids and TB courses at the school.
He said the challenges facing the school were far from over.
“Yes, we have a drug problem among primary school children. We also have 20 HIV-positive children at the school,” Damons said.
“We do not get shocked anymore, we rather get shocked into action.”
Damons said despite leaving the school in the capable and competent hands of deputy principal Alicia Baatjies, he had bittersweet emotions about leaving Sapphire Road Primary.