Senior principals a boost for schools in heartland

Mrs Regina Lee, former principal of CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh), is now the principal of North Vista Secondary School in Sengkang.  Cluster superintendent Tony Tan, 51, will head Northland Primary next year. He started out teaching mathematics at Hwa
Mrs Regina Lee, former principal of CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh), is now the principal of North Vista Secondary School in Sengkang. Cluster superintendent Tony Tan, 51, will head Northland Primary next year. He started out teaching mathematics at Hwa Chong Junior College in 1988, and headed Tao Nan School for eight years.ST FILE PHOTO ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
Mrs Regina Lee, former principal of CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh), is now the principal of North Vista Secondary School in Sengkang.  Cluster superintendent Tony Tan, 51, will head Northland Primary next year. He started out teaching mathematics at Hwa
Mrs Regina Lee, former principal of CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh), is now the principal of North Vista Secondary School in Sengkang. Cluster superintendent Tony Tan, 51, will head Northland Primary next year. He started out teaching mathematics at Hwa Chong Junior College in 1988, and headed Tao Nan School for eight years.ST FILE PHOTO ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

They help raise profile of the schools and draw more interest from parents

Most parents would be cautious about sending their children to a new primary school with no track record.

So Alexandra Primary, which opens only next year, surprised many by holding a ballot in this year's Primary 1 registration.

One of the school's draws, said parents and observers, is its principal Madam Chua Bee Lay, the current head of the popular Maha Bodhi School. Her deputy will be the vice-principal of CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' Primary, Ms Chan Yan Hoon.

At West Spring Primary in Bukit Panjang, another new school which opens next year, all its 210 places have been filled.

The school will be helmed by Mrs Jacinta Lim, who has been principal of Yangzheng Primary for six years. Some parents who enrolled their children in the school have noted how Yangzheng's popularity in Serangoon has grown under her watch.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest shown," said Mrs Lim, who added that she hopes to use her experience of leading Yangzheng to "jump-start" the new school, such as by introducing play-based learning initiatives. She also plans to play an active role in thehiring of teachers by handpicking a "committed team" carefully.

These anecdotes underscore how having senior and well-regarded principals can help raise the profile of heartland schools.

The latest shuffle announced last Friday by the Education Ministry saw experienced principals, including Mrs Lim and Madam Chua, appointed to lead schools in the heartland from next year.

Others include Mr Richard Lim, principal of Anglo-Chinese School (Primary) for nine years, who will move to Si Ling Primary in Woodlands. Mr Lim previously served as principal of Henry Park Primary for seven years.

In a Facebook post on Sunday night, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said the rotation is one of the ways through which his ministry hopes to make "every school a good school" by transferring and spreading good practices.

Parents and observers said the ministry's move will help lesser-known schools level up in terms of standards and visibility. It is also a step towards giving parents more confidence to enrol children at less-established schools.

Ms Rosminah Ahmad, 33, who works in the food industry and has a daughter in Primary 5, said: "I would be more confident that the school would be run capably if it had a senior principal."

Mr Tony Tan, 51, who oversees several schools as a cluster superintendent, will head Northland Primary in Yishun next year.

He said: "It reassures them (parents) that no matter which school their child goes to, there are good people there." Principals are key decision-makers, "so they are in a better position to shape the school culture", he said.

Another principal who has made headway in boosting a school is Mrs Regina Lee, who formerly headed CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh) for about six years.

The 44-year-old was posted to head North Vista Secondary in Sengkang last year. One of her first moves was to "revitalise" learning spaces, like a section of the library redesigned to create rooms for teaching and learning.

Plans to create a large lecture theatre for bigger classes are also in the works, while in March, she arranged a week of out-of-school activities for students, such as a Malaysian adventure camp and theatre and museum visits.

But most parents said that given a choice, they would not be too quick to send their children to a "heartland" school simply because it had a well-known principal.

Former Raffles Girls' School principal Carmee Lim, 73, also warned: "Principals should not be changed too often. Building a culture takes a long time.

"You have to get teachers and parents on board. You can't change it overnight."

ateng@sph.com.sg