ENSURING students are placed at the centre of all aspects of the new €23 million Ennistymon Community School will be a key priority for newly-appointed principal, Orla Conway.
Working as a teacher for 19 years, Ms Conway previously held an Assistant Principal position and is currently Acting Principal of Ennistymon Vocational School.
In an extensive interview with the Clare Champion, she confirmed work is on track to ensure staff and pupils from the three Ennistymon second level schools will move to the new state-of-the-art facility in September 2023 following a 35-year wait.
“My vision is that Ennistymon Community School will be student-centred in all aspects and will have a very happy inclusive culture,” she stated.
Catering for 750 pupils, the new school will have 70 teachers in total including two deputy principals.
With construction work almost reaching the third floor, it is expected the main metal part of the overall structure is due to be finished by next spring.
Facilities include a PE hall, four science labs, several Home Economics and textiles rooms, 30 modern classrooms, multi-media suite, arts and crafts, practical rooms, fitness suite, and additional educational needs suite to accommodate an ASD class or non-mainstream class depending on the demand. At least six teachers are trained to teach students with additional needs.
The new school will be a North Clare educational hub, attracting students from Ennistymon, Kilnaboy, Corofin, Ballyvaughan, Inagh, Kilnamona, Rineen, Doolin and some from Ennis whose parents are working locally.
Enrolment for new first years will take place during the open evening this autumn.
Describing the principal’s post as “challenging but exciting”, she said it is great to bring three very strong schools together with different strengths.
“There will be challenges but we will overcome them. Under the stewardship of educational consultant, Joe O’Connell and our three patrons, we have done a huge amount of tri-school events bringing staff together. A lot of the policies and planning for the new school is already done.
“We have brought the curriculum into alignment to ensure that first years starting in each of the three schools will have the same subjects moving into second year.
“The two other principals who are part of the working group, Mary Lyons, Ennistymon CBS and Seosaimhin Ui Dhomhnallain, Scoil Mhuire, have been amazing. We have been planning various things with our staff since last year.
“The interim Board of Management is very competent. Everything is being done by the three schools to ensure the transition to the new school is as smooth as possible.
“It was important to us that students’ needs are placed at the centre of the new school. We can’t wait to go into the most high tech school in Clare next year. Building digital skills among students using the new facilities will be very important.
“Our school is the only one in Clare that teaches computer science at Leaving Certificate. It is not all about digital but that is where the jobs are. The curriculum is designed for students who want to go to third-level, apprenticeships and the workforce,” she said.
Further education will also be available in a new centre near the secondary school, which will also offer Leaving Certificate Applied.
“Ennistymon is buzzing all year round. There is a great vibe in the town and a lot of young people are moving back into the area,” said Ms Conway.
She also acknowledged the help of Senators Martin Conway and Rosin Garvey in terms of looking for new facilities.
Asked about playing facilities, she said the three patrons are constantly liaising with the Department of Education while Limerick and Clare Education Training Board chief executive, George O’Callaghan has also met the department.
“There will be playing facilities. There are a lot of ongoing talks and it is looking very positive. We should have clarity on the timeline very soon. Sport is very important for students’ wellbeing.
“We also have a very good tradition of music in Ennistymon. The three schools have participated in the Creative Engagement Project where they have completed murals in their own school. The three schools are the backbone of the town and work very well with businesses and local organisations,” she added.
Having attended Cree National School, she completed her second level education in St Joseph’s Spanish Point.
Her extensive educational qualifications include a four-year information technology business degree, a H-Dip in Education in UCC, a Post-Grad in Special Needs in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, a Post-Grad in Leadership in Maynooth, and a Masters in School Leadership at the University of Limerick in 2020.
From 2004 to 2006, she taught children with additional needs in St Joseph’s following a stint in Carrigaline Community School, Cork.
In 2006, she joined the teaching staff of Ennistymon Vocational School, starting out as an additional needs teacher before she taught business in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, which is a very skill-based programme that prepares teenagers for the workplace.
Commenting on teaching children with additional needs, she stressed it is important to have empathy and understanding as well as going to the level of the child in terms of what supports they need before building on their strengths.
“If you are good at looking after children with the greatest level of need, you will be good at everything else,” she explained.
Married to Mayo man Thomas Foy, Ms Conway has three children Fionn, Fiachra and Daire.