After five years as Principal of Hermanus High School, Greg Hassenkamp can still not believe his luck. And undoubtedly, there will be many parents and children in Hermanus who will feel equally happy about his appointment. Not only has the school achieved excellent results under his leadership, but he identifies so strongly with it, that in the minds of many, school and principal are indistinguishable.
Having previously been Deputy-Head of Pretoria Boys’ High, a very large single-sex school in a very large city, it took him a while to adjust to a smaller co-ed school in a smaller town in a different province. However, supported by an excellent Governing Body and a hard-working and effective staff complement, he soon took to it like a duck to water and was able, in a remarkably short time, to put his own stamp on the character of the school.
“Actually,” says Greg, “I found a very good school when I arrived, so all I have had to do is expand on what was already there. In fact, the quality of a school is determined on the one hand by the pupils – their energy and honesty and pride – and on the other, by the teachers. Nothing can be achieved without their full commitment, and I have been blessed with a brilliant staff, a good mix of mature, experienced educationists and younger teachers, with fresh new ideas and lots of energy.”
He and the Governing Body have formulated a new short- to longer-term vision for the development of the school. The first year of three, three-year cycles has just been completed and Greg finds this road forward very exciting. “With an enrolment of 970 pupils, the school is at capacity at the moment, but within that limitation, there are many ways in which we can move in exciting new directions,” he points out. “Our aim is to become a destination school; in other words, a school whose standards compare with those of any other school in the country”.
Greg has very firm ideas about the role of education. “At this school, our educational policy is built on four, equally important pillars – academic, cultural, sports and service. If you want to build young people with strong characters, a firm set of values and a wide range of interests who will be worthy citizens of this country, then what they learn in extra-mural activities, like sport, the arts and community service are just as important as what they learn in the classroom. So balance is critical; I try personally to participate in and support the learners on the sports field, at a choir performance, in projects where they reach out to the wider community, whenever I can. We are not a privileged school, you see, but we are all privileged to be part of this family and we try to share that good fortune with the wider community.”
He pays tribute to the people of Hermanus for the support they unstintingly give to every aspect of the life of the school, whether it be attending a rugby match or a school play or sponsoring a pupil who needs assistance. Integration of the school into the wider community is vitally important he feels (which is why, together with other concerned citizens, he could be seen helping to fight the recent fires, in his suit, in a successful bid to save the newly-built AstroTurf). “I think the community understands that a good school adds value to the town,” says Greg, “but one thing is certain, we wouldn’t survive without their support.”
Everybody in Hermanus celebrated the excellent 2018 matric results achieved by the school once again, but Greg believes that without the involvement of the community, they would not have been nearly so successful. This year, the 176 matric pupils hope to do even better. There are 21 subjects for them to choose from, 17 offered within the school timetable and four extra-murally, with possibly more to come in the future. They range from the basic maths, science and languages to information technology, add maths, art, music, dance and drama. The focus is on preparing the young people for a knowledge- and communications-driven world which is changing at the speed of light.
Greg praises his remarkable teaching staff for their very special skills and commitment. Because the school is parallel medium, with approximately 60% Afrikaans-speaking and 40% English-speaking learners, all the educators must be able to teach in both languages. And they do so with aplomb! Indeed, two of the teachers at the school were named amongst the top educators in the province in 2018.
On a personal note, Greg and his wife, Amanda, who teaches at Hermanus Primary School, are so grateful that their own two children are growing up in a town like Hermanus. “They enjoy a free, relaxed lifestyle which most city children are denied,” says Greg. “It’s lovely for me to have my daughter already at the school where I am and next year my son will be here, too.
And even though the new school term began on a somewhat fiery note, he is excited about the year ahead. “The kids are the ones that drive the process after all: their enthusiasm and pride in the school energise me all over again. In a nutshell, it’s simply a huge privilege for me to be at Hermanus High School; I couldn’t have asked for more.”