Zwaanswyk High School grows from strength to strength

Principal Shandre Otto with student Amber Jaffer.

It seems that it’s far easier to become associated with negativity rather than positivity. Zwaanswyk High School, situated in Tokai, seems to be known for a couple of negative things: there was the matric pupil’s hair scandal of 2017; the stolen baby event from 2015; and even a stabbing incident back in 2002.

This year, the school turns 65 years old, and it’s sensible now, at the early stages of another new year, to highlight some of the accolades that the school has achieved under its new management.

At the beginning of 2017, Zwaanswyk High School welcomed its first female principal. Shandre Otto is not only the school’s first female principal, but she is also the first principal in the school’s history to be black. On display in the foyer of the school are Ms Otto’s predecessors, all male and all white – most of their names aren’t associated with taking hold of the school and shaking it up the way Ms Otto has done.

Ms Otto’s leadership of the school has given it a much-needed facelift: we are multiracial, bigger than ever before, receiving recognition for the academic successes of our learner body, and celebrating the school’s 65th birthday this term.

The school accommodates pupils from a number of surrounding areas but also takes in pupils from as far as Kensington and Gugulethu, showing that it matters not where you have been but, rather, where you will be going.

Ms Otto describes her teachers as “practitioners of change. It is the staff who help the learners that we serve, to envision something for their lives and to realise that education at Zwaanswyk High School is a stepping stone for something better”.

She celebrates the way in which the staff set targets with the children in their classes and how they work together to achieve the desired outcome. She appreciates the extended opportunities on offer at the school and pupils’ exposure to others from different organisations and institutions.

The school has also upped its efforts to deliver the curriculum in a more contemporary fashion through the use of multi-modal and interactive technology in the classrooms.

It is the shared responsibility for learning that has resulted in Zwaanswyk High School living out its motto, Ex Cultu Vires, which, roughly translated, means culture develops strength.

Ms Otto believes that it is her job to ensure that everyone who makes up the school realises that they come into a shared ethos of life at Zwaanswyk High School.

The teachers instil the same idea in their learners in their classrooms, expecting at least a 50% pass for each learner in every subject offered by the school.

Zwaanswyk High School is a far cry away from where it began in 1867. Known first as Retreat Public School and, later, as Retreat Secondary School, it was once a community school based in Station Road, Retreat (the building still stands today!) that served an all-white, Afrikaans-speaking population.

It started off with a learner body of 67 learners, and grew this to 347 learners before it needed the bigger premises upon which is stands today.

In September of 1953, the school was renamed Zwaanswyk High School.

Currently home to nearly 700 learners, with a new exterior, a multiracial and multi-social learner and staff complement, and a fresh approach to teaching and learning, the school sails on its recent success: an award for the highest increase in Bachelor’s access passes over the span of three years – having nearly doubled its performance from 26% in 2014 to 63% in 2017’s National Senior Certificate examinations.Ms Otto’s first year as principal, last year, was the first year in a five-year academic cycle that the school had all of its matriculants complete their Grade 12 year. Despite the notoriety that might be associated with the school’s name, the positive, powerful and new brand of Zwaanswyk High School continues to help the school grow from strength to strength. The school continues to be an asset to the community, allowing its premises to be used by outsiders for functions and events, while continuing to keep education at the heart of the matter.

There should be a renewed interest in the school, especially as it celebrates its founder’s day next month.

The pupils, parents, staff, and school governing body invite the public to celebrate the school’s 65th birthday on Tuesday March 20.