SINGAPORE - Being appointed as principals of their alma mater was a special surprise for Mrs Lucy Toh and Mr Boy Eng Seng, the new heads of National Junior College (NJC) and Maris Stella High School.
Their schools are among the 70 getting new principals in 2023 as part of the annual Ministry of Education (MOE) reshuffle. This is the highest number of schools that will have new principals since 2004.
“This is due to a higher number of serving principals who will be retiring as compared with previous years,” said an MOE spokesman, adding that typically, between 50 and 70 schools get new principals each year.
Twenty-six schools will have first-time principals.
At a ceremony held at Shangri-La Hotel on Thursday, the ministry acknowledged the contributions of 15 retiring principals and retiring senior education officers at its headquarters who had served as principals.
Separately, nine other principals, who were re-employed after their retirement, will be completing their term this year, said the MOE spokesman in response to queries.
On average, the number of retiring principals and senior educators who have held principal appointments is about 20 in the past five years, he said.
For Mrs Toh, 51, there is sentimental value in her new assignment as she met her husband in NJC, where they were classmates in the Humanities Scholarship Programme.
She is mindful of the immense responsibility given to her and the college’s teachers.
“We want our children to grow up as whole persons,” she said. “I distinguish that from all-rounders, who are good at many things and simply checking the boxes. In truth, nobody is really an all-rounder.
“I want them to grow up to be people who have a sense of who they are in this world, their destiny and what part they play.”
This was also a key takeaway for her from her most recent role as MOE’s divisional director of special educational needs, which she held for five years.
“The sense of community and belonging among all of us with a heart for special needs is forged in a context with a lot of challenges and demanding a lot of creativity,” said Mrs Toh, who was principal of St Andrew’s Secondary School from 2011 to 2016.
“I remember a student councillor saying during (NJC’s) open house that its students came from over 100 secondary schools and, on the spot, I decided this was the school for me,” she said. “This is a college that belongs to everyone, every Singaporean, and that is still the case.”
Similarly, Mr Boy, 46, who was most recently principal of Bedok Green Secondary School, is excited to lead Maris Stella High School, a place where he has fond memories and made lasting friendships.
One priority for him is to strengthen the relationship between the primary and secondary sections of Maris Stella. About 30 per cent of its Secondary 1 cohort comes from its affiliated primary school.
“This includes building students up in the Special Assistance Plan curriculum, laying the foundation in primary school for soft skills in leadership and values and applying what they have learnt in secondary school,” said Mr Boy.
Over at Rosyth School, Mr Suraj Nair has been appointed its new principal. The former director of technologies for learning at MOE’s education technology division said he will carry the spirit of innovation into his new role.
“My stint in headquarters gave me time and space to look at the future of learning... to have courage to test new ideas, learn from them and make things better,” said Mr Suraj, who was involved in the development of MOE’s online student learning platform and artificial intelligence in education projects.
Looking at the next phase of Rosyth School’s development, Mr Suraj, 48, a former principal of Teck Whye Primary School, said: “We need to continually think about the pace of changes in the world that our students will graduate into. Beyond academic grounding, we also need to look at whether we’re nurturing the right kind of competencies in our school programmes and if it’s sufficient.”
Addressing 450 school leaders and educators on Thursday, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing challenged them to be bold and innovate as the world continues to change and present new opportunities and challenges.
Every school is different, he said, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for educators.
“You are the ones who will sense the needs of your unique students’ profiles, their circumstances.
“Ultimately, your benchmark of success is not what exam scores your students get. Your benchmark of success is how much (value you have added) to the lives of your students.”