When Dianne Morgan, of Plumstead, took over as principal of Lansdowne’s Windsor High School in April this year it proved to be a baptism of Covid.
President Cyril Ramaphosa had declared a national state of disaster on March 15. Schools closed on March 18 and a full lockdown followed on March 26.
Ms Morgan has 33 years of teaching experience, including stints at Groenvlei High School in Lansdowne, from 1987 to 2014, and Silikamva High School in Hout Bay, where she was principal from 2018 until the end of March, but nothing prepared her for having to start a new job at the helm of a high school with more than 700 pupils … by remote control from home.
“One of the main reasons I came to Windsor High School was to serve the community of Lansdowne, where I spent such a large part of my teaching career,” she says, referring to her time at Groenvlei.
She took over from the acting principal Riyaad Najaar and was the school’s first permanently appointed principal since 2018.
But while her appointment was expected to bring some stability to the school’s upper management, the Covid-19 pandemic soon presented the school with one of the most convulsive periods in its 85-year history.
“I had to work on a strategy,” says Ms Morgan, “as to how I am, as a new staff member, going to lead the school from home.”
She started preparing regular circulars for parents to keep them informed about what was going on, and she joined staff WhatsApp and email groups to get regular updates from teachers and to monitor the progress of remote teaching programmes.
A new challenge presented itself as lockdown eased enough to allow for the partial reopening of schools.
Readying Windsor High for the return of pupils into an environment where learning had to happen along with temperature-taking, hand sanitising, physical distancing, mask wearing and more was a journey into the unknown, she says.
“I knew, as principal, I had to be focused to prepare this school to be safe for the pupils and staff.”
Getting the school compliant with the strict Covid-19 regulations, she says, gave her focus and confidence to welcome her teaching and non-teaching staff back onto the school grounds.
Even when Ms Morgan could open the school to matrics in June, she could not hold a full assembly to formally introduce herself.
So, with help from Lesley Mally, the head of matrics, she made a WhatsApp video that was shared with the pupils before school opened.
As more pupils were phased in at school, Ms Morgan visited each class to greet her pupils.
“At the moment,” she says, “the pupils are still sussing me out as we are not able to have our weekly assemblies.”
It was International Teachers Day on Monday, and Ms Morgan paid a special tribute to her staff for going above and beyond the call of duty to help get the school through those first harrowing months of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Sajal Parmar, the school’s business studies teacher, who joined Windsor High in the past year, says Ms Morgan has become a reassuring presence.
“She leads us and is leading us towards excellence,” she says.
Teacher Bruce Scheepers says the school’s morale has remained high since her appointment.
“She is a good leader, and they could not have appointed a better person for the job.”