Principal's Address - Open Night 2020

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to St. Joseph’s College. My name is Michele McCormick and I am the principal of this school having joined the school community in September of 2015. I’m in my fifth year, feel very much at home and very proud to lead this fantastic school.

I especially want to welcome the P6 and P7 children who have come here tonight, I am confident that you will have a great time on your tour.

We had the great pleasure of hosting the P6 pupils for our school production Hairspray in November and

last week, we were lucky to visit the P7s in their primary schools. They were all so welcoming and a credit to all your parents here tonight.

Tonight, I am joined by two pupils, Y8, Patrick Pillitteri and our Head Girl, Y14, Erin McCormick.

They have kindly volunteered to speak to you this evening about their experiences since joining us last September for Patrick and in September 2013 for Erin.

What I hope you hear, see and feel tonight is a place where your son or daughter will be happy, will be nurtured yet challenged to always give of their best, I want you to know that there is a whole range of opportunities both in and out of the classroom and I want you to be assured that the school will always do the best for your child. The positive experience you will gain tonight is better than a thousand reports I can ever stand here and deliver to you.

I was born and bred on the Ormeau Road and still live in St Bernadette’s Parish.

My own schooling was St Bernard’s PS and then I went to St. Dominic’s, QUB for my degree in Mathematics and then Bristol to complete my PGCE. I started my teaching career in Fortwilliam Dominican College, then St. Cecilia’s, Derry, 14 years in St. Columbanus’ College in Bangor, two years as Principal in St. Rose’s Dominican College and now here in St Joseph’s.

That’s me done, I’m for staying!

This evening, I wish to instill confidence in you about my leadership. Being a local girl I have an invested interest in making this school the best it can be. My heart is in this community and therefore I want the best for the children in it. This is a FANTASTIC school and I want to maintain that great work and aim even higher. I want you to be part of that success.

I view each child as unique. I am conscious that as a guardian of their future a huge responsibility rests on my shoulders. We must plan which learning style your child responds to. It calls for us to look at the activities within our classrooms. While each activity must give an experience, each small piece of experience must build into a larger mosaic of understanding.

I would now like to invite Patrick and Erin to say a few words.

St Joseph’s is on a path of being an amazing school and to reach those heady heights we need a set of GCSE and A-Level results to match. It is now the trend here in St Joseph’s for us to be over the NI average in performance indicators for a good school.

We are significantly raising the bar on academic expectations at St Joseph’s. Being ambitious for our pupils, believing in them and contributing to their well-being. By urging them to achieve, and to be ambitious for themselves – we are giving a focus to their learning, helping them to fulfil their potential, and so to grow in confidence.

This is now the norm in St Joseph’s and has been the case for the last number of years.

You send your child to any school you want them to do well, that’s our core business. We deliver in our core business.

So what are the key ingredients for the outstanding education we aspire to offer our students at St Joseph’s? So what does it take to set someone on a path towards a great life?

The answer lies in simply the hard graft put in by our students, support from parents, teachers, and all in the community, living our school motto, achieving excellence through partnership. We excel at adding value to your child’s educational outcomes, it’s the journey that your child will travel from their starting point and what research and tests would tell you what is expected from them. We better any predictions that PIE PIM Midyis, yellis, etc. will ever give you.

Along with providing a love of learning which manifests itself in great results, if we are to provide successfully an outstanding all-round education for our pupils, we must look after their well-being and happiness. How can we help our pupils to understand, and manage, their mental health – to be happy, resilient and comfortable in their own skin?

Education has to be about the development of the whole person – about the development of character, by discovering what you’re really interested in- what makes you tick – whether it’s sport, drama, music. And St Joseph’s, with its incredibly rich extracurricular life could not be better equipped to build the confidence and self-esteem which is so essential to feel fulfilled.

We do that in a number of ways – whether it’s sport… we excel in Gaelic football, netball, Futsal, soccer, and we welcome into the school, many sporting organisations, e.g. Gaelfast, Ulster Rugby,

If sport isn’t your thing you could be part of Music and Drama in the school….

I know so many of you enjoyed the recent school production of Hairspray. It was superb. A complete reflection showcasing what makes our school so great in terms of drama and music.

Huge credit goes to Cristin McManus, the Head of Drama and Maeve McCann, Head of music. It takes encouragement, direction and someone the cast clearly connect with and that certainly was the case with Cristin, Maeve and the cast.

It might be the Mock Magistrates Court or the Chimes club, we have something for everyone.

School trips, Villareal, Krakow, and in March a Ski Trip to Bulgaria.

Not only are students here given every opportunity to find their talents and to develop them to the full, they are also enabled to learn that happiness can be achieved through helping other people.

We have a programme of charity events which, even by the standards of other schools, is exceptional in its reach.

There are so many examples:

The now annual climb to Slieve Donard by our sixth years raises a lot of money for their chosen charity and this year it was Action Mental Health.

30 members of staff and pupils participated in the School Marathon Relay Team raising money for Stroke NI.

Mrs Whyte and six students abseiled down the City Hospital for Friends of Cancer. These are alongside The Road to Hope Shoebox Appeal and The SVP Christmas Hamper appeal

These events are so much more than fundraising, it’s about building relationships, and experiencing the team spirit of what it means to be part of the St Joseph’s family.

This hallmark of Catholic education – upholding social justice and looking beyond ourselves – helps to give us a sense of perspective and a set of values

I strongly believe that an interest in, and concern for, other people, coupled with a wide range of extra-curricular interests will help our young people to be resilient adults: not just in the world of work but to be fully thriving human beings, well-grounded and able to make a valuable contribution to society.

We are living in an increasingly competitive job market; we need to work hard to prepare our pupils for the world of tomorrow.

In the latest Ulster University research, NI 2019 Skills Barometer, the most undersupplied subject groups are engineering & technology; mathematical & computer science and physical/environmental science. The most oversupplied subject groups are education; social studies and medical related subjects.

With this backdrop we create a post 16 curriculum to match these future needs.

We have superb collaboration with our neighbours next door, Aquinas Grammar School, and some of our pupils are studying an A level next door.

St Joseph’s is not a soft option and makes no excuses for pushing your children to achieve as highly as possible. Many of you sitting in front of me will agree that achieving your best takes hard graft; equally in school, success means making compromises, working hard and working with your teachers.

These qualities will stand our students, in good stead, in the world of work as well as more widely in their lives – and they are precisely the things which our curriculum is designed to promote.

It’s certainly not the easiest time to be young, with the chaos of Brexit, the rising cost of a university education, an excessively steep housing ladder, and ever-increasing competition in a shifting jobs market, not to mention the pressures of Social Media.

We believe we are supporting pupils to be results ready and skills ready for this modern world.

I am the chair of the South Belfast Area Learning Community, were the Principals of 12 schools which includes Wellington, Aquinas, Methody, Rathmore, Fleming Fulton to name a few and we meet regularly to discuss School Improvement. No matter what school within this ALC, we all agree education is tough.

But let’s not forget that education should be a joy. Recently in a speech, the Pope told young people the way to “find themselves” is not by looking in the mirror, but by doing, by “going in search of goodness, of truth, of beauty.”

Education should open doors and enable children to find their gifts and to discern how to use them for their own benefit, and also for the good of others.

The holistic education offered at St Joseph’s does all of this. It is catholic in the purest sense – all embracing; inclusive and unlimited. And the value and relevance of a St Joseph’s education is therefore arguably greater now than it ever has been.

Our Year 8 intake this year again was over 150, second year in a row since we got our increase in enrolment in 2018. We have now 702 pupils on site in school. With this increase comes opportunity within the school for your sons and daughters with increased funding. As a temporary measure, this year we will have new modular buildings onsite to accommodate this increase.

BUT we urgently need and our students deserve up-to-date state of the art learning facilities to ensure equality for all the children in this community

Gerry Campbell, the Chief Executive of CCMS visited the school on Monday and confirmed that his organization has recommended St Joseph’s to the Department of education in November past for a new build.

With the appointment of Peter Weir as the new Minister, there should be movement on capital investment before May of this year. The announcement, he made on Tuesday, about 18 schools being granted the School Enhancement Programme, those schools are now ruled out of having a new build and the Board of Governors of this school deliberately did not apply for a SEP for this reason. I will be calling on all the 5 South Belfast MLAs, Matthew O’Toole, SDLP, Deirdre Hargey, Sinn Fein, Paula Bradshaw, Alliance, Clare Ballie, Green Party and Christopher Stalford, DUP to support us on making that new build happen.

All parties supported the increase in enrolment in 2018.

We are confident we will be announced this year.

The support of our parents in St Joseph’s College is extremely strong and key to this continued growth as it is you who put your faith in St Joseph’s and make sure it works for your son or daughter.

The teachers’ role and support is paramount at every stage. But the thing that sets us apart from other schools is the relationships with the pupils

The staff here is made of superb individuals but together we make a fantastic team. It’s all about the collective. We were awarded the Investors in People Health & Wellbeing Award and last month the Down & Connor Spirit of Catholic Education Award.

I am very proud of this most recent award as this demonstrates that not only do we instill in our students the self-belief that they can achieve anything they want, it tells us what we value and I know you will see this tonight.

We value diversity, we value inclusion, we value achievement but above all we value the young people of this community. We are an all-ability, all inclusive, Catholic College.

St Joseph’s is a highly successful and happy school, above all we want the best for your child, St Joseph’s children believe in themselves and aim for the stars!

I know that our pupils feel valued – they have obvious pride in their school – look around this evening, there are approx. 300 pupils, giving up their evening to show you who we are.

In conclusion, I hope that what you see and hear tonight will assist you in making the decision about which school may suit your son or daughter best and you decide that this is the right school for them…… I look forward to welcoming you again in September as St. Joseph’s pupils – I am sure that your son/daughter will be very happy here and will enjoy great success.

Enjoy the rest of your evening, thank you.

Download a copy of the Principal’s Address 16-01-2020

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