THE strong bond between St Anne’s Community College, Killaloe and the local community has been lauded by its new principal, Eukaria O’Grady, Dan Danaher.
A native of Limerick City, Ms O’Grady, who took up the post a few weeks ago, is very impressed with the respect between staff and students, which has been built up over the years.
St Anne’s has almost 600 students and 45 teachers, which includes a few part-time. The previous principal, Aideen Walsh retired recently.
As she settles in to her new role, Ms O’Grady, who is almost 40 years of age, is feeling more comfortable, and really likes the students and the local community.
“It is a real community school. The staff and the parents’ association work with the community and the community works back into the school.
“I get a great sense of that strong link between the school and the community in Ballina and Killaloe. There is a great interest among the staff and parents in the school community rather than just on academics.”
“There are quite a few staff members teaching for 20 years who were previous past pupils. There is a real devotion to the school from the community and the staff. The school is more than 100 years in the town.”
She enjoys a very good working relationship with deputy principal Beverley Hartigan, who has worked as a teacher in the school for about 16 years.
“Beverley’s sense of connection with the students and staff and her confidence and faith in everyone is excellent. I wouldn’t feel as happy and calm as I feel now only for her support and work ethic.”
Eukaria also praised all the teachers, students cleaning, caretaking staff, secretary, Noirín Buckley and Sharon Troy in accounts.
Describing the recent Leaving Certificate results as “outstanding”, she recalled four students got 625 points, 12 students got more than 600 points, 22 students got between 500 and 600 points, with 38% of the class getting more than 500 points.
In view of the fact that Cystic Fibrosis advocate, Jade Needham couldn’t come in to the classroom for two years, she said her Leaving Certificate results were “phenomenal”.
“We are very proud of her and she should be proud of herself.”
She feels her varied background, academic qualifications and work with social services gave her confidence to deal with tricky situations.
“Being a principal is a very varied job. It is not just about managing a school, there are buildings, people, situations, department circulars and dealing with Covid-19. I am not daunted by that.
“Sixteen years ago, we were doing video conferencing in the UK National Archives.
“I would be calm more so in certain situations than other people in terms of my experience. Having said that, you can never have enough experience in teaching. I felt it was the right time for me to take the next step to become principal.”
While a lot of work was done to ensure students were taught remotely during various lockdowns, she acknowledged everyone including students have been affected by the pandemic.
“Everything is a bit dislodged for students, teachers and parents due to Covid-19. Everyone is not at ease, which I can understand.
“The students are excellent, they are really likeable, responsive and respectful.
“The teachers and previous principal, Ms Walsh had very good practices in place before I came here.
“It has been a lot easier than it could have been given that they already know they have to sanitise, wear masks and keep doors and windows open. It helps the weather is still good.
“The hardest thing is keeping up with the new guidelines and changes. The current situation is very similar to where we were last May.
“The Limerick and Clare Education Training Board provide great support in terms of adhering to circulars. I enjoy working in the ETB sector.”
If a pupil in the school is deemed a close contact, she outlined that a teacher will ring the HSE and they will ring back with the up to date guidelines, which are strictly adhered to.
She said the guidelines around close contacts are less restrictive now compared to the first lockdown in view of the fact that most people are fully vaccinated against the virus.
While the principal acknowledges the school extension is great, she insists the “students bring it to life and make it impressive”.
“We are fortunate to have the playing pitches. We have a very strong sports and physical education department in the school. Science, woodwork and engineering are very strong as well. There is great choice in the school that you might not get in other schools, and there is a wide range of subjects for the Leaving Certificate.”
“A lot of the teachers are involved in extra curricular activities like sport and you can see them bringing the students along with them.”
Respect is the central plank of her ethos concerning what is best for students and staff. She believes that generally students are very respectful of staff.
If people are polite and respectful, she feels that any issue can be resolved.
She is a strong believer in children’s rights in education and the need for different voices to be brought together including the student.
Commenting on students’ special needs, she said pupils had additional needs years ago, but weren’t diagnosed.
In addition to a few teachers completing a course on special education, the school has set up a class for three children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“There is a lot more awareness now and training for special needs. Teachers are responsible for all the children in their classroom and for meeting their needs at various levels in how they teach. We have received a lot more resource hours.
“The tricky part of secondary school is the curriculum and timetables. Children have the same teacher all day in primary school.
“It can be hard for a student with special needs to cope with seven or eight subjects.
“Plans are already in place to get to know and support first years before they arrive in St Anne’s.”
She hopes to continue and build on the strong community ethos allied to the strong respect between students and teachers.
Eukaria plans to constantly review systems, communications, information technology and curriculum changes to see what works best for staff and students.
In 2004, she graduated with a BA in History, Politics, Sociology and Social Studies from the University of Limerick.
Having travelled in England, she completed her teacher training in Oxford. While she was in London she worked in the education department of the National Archives, and also did a degree conversion in psychology with an Open University because she thought she might pursue a career in educational psychology.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to come home, my father was unwell during the summer, which is an awkward time for teaching jobs in England.
“I was manager in the education department while my manager was on maternity leave.”
She worked in social services as sociology is part of her degree, and was involved with children in care for nearly two years.
“I have used my teaching background and degree in the ways that I can. There is a bit more variability in England.”
In 2010, she came back to Ireland and got work in Laurel Hill Secondary School, Limerick where she was previously a pupil.
She completed a Special Educational Needs post graduate course with Mary Immaculate College and a Masters in Education with UCC.
During a career break, she worked with the Ombudsman for Children in their education and policy department in 2016. She also obtained a Higher Diploma with the Law Society in Human Right and Educational Law.
In 2018, she was appointed deputy principal in the Limerick Educate Together School.