The outgoing principal of St Cecilia’s College says she’s sad to be leaving her “beautiful girls” as she prepares to take up a new post in Belfast.
Kathleen Gormley, who’s been at the Creggan school for the past 26 years - ten as its principal - says that, while she knows she has “one of the best jobs in Derry”, it is time to “give someone else that chance.”
Mrs. Gormley, who takes up her new job at Hazelwood Integrated College in North Belfast in September, says she’s looking forward to new challenges.
“I’m not sorry to go because I strongly believe every leader should leave when their goals are achieved but I will be sad to leave a splendid staff and my beautiful girls, both past and present,” she told the ‘Journal’ this week.
“However, I do so in the knowledge that they make an enormous contribution to making the city what it is. To have been part of that success has been a privilege. One of my former colleagues has reminded me rightly that, while I may leave my job at St Cecilia’s, St Cecilia’s will never leave me! I know that well.”
Mrs. Gormley says two of the main challenges during her tendure as principal were to, firstly, work to build academic success and, secondly, to oversee the construction of the new school at Bligh’s Lane.
“Both of these have been accomplished with St Cecilia’s now one of the top achieving all-ability schools in Northern Ireland with a sixth form of more than 200 and a beautiful new building with one of the best views in Derry.
“The mission which I was given by the Board of Governors in 2002, and had the privilege of working with staff on, is complete and it is now time to go... It has been an honour and a dream come true to be principal of St Cecilia’s for the last ten years.”
Mrs. Gormley’s teaching career in Derry started in the winter of 1984 at St John’s PS which, funnily enough, was situated just next door to the school she’d eventually go on to lead.
“I remember walking around Derry in the snow in January 1984 to give schools my CV to go on their subbing list. Mr Hugh Kelly, Principal of St. John’s Primary School, was suitably impressed by what he described as this work ethic and asked me to cover a teacher for a day and I stayed at St. John’s for the next year and a half teaching P3 and P5. I always have had empathy for teachers on that journey towards a permanent job.
“After St. John’s, Mamie Pedersen was good enough to ask me to fill in for someone teaching History in St. Cecilia’s and, from there, I got a permanent job. I experienced both Mamie and Grainne McCafferty as principal and still quote both of them often.”
There have, she says, been many high points during her time at St. Cecilia’s, in particular the opening of the new school: “The big physical change can be witnessed by standing on the City Walls and looking up the hill towards Bligh’s Lane and seeing our wonderful new school. Then, go to the bottom of Bligh’s Lane and watch the girls leave the school with their heads held high - the self confidence of our young people is a joy and is the reflection of a more self confident city. The girls of St. Cecilia’s come from around 26 primary schools from a seven mile radius. This melting pot from different parts of the city is one of our strengths.”
She added: “The opening of the new St. Cecilia’s College on Bligh’s Lane on November 22, 2010 has to a moment in time. We had decanted to Northland Road in 2005 and, if you think moving house is an experience, moving school puts a different perspective on things - especially, when five years later, we did it all again! I have to pay tribute to staff, parents and pupils for their faith at that time in believing that both the decant school and the new school would be ready for the new academic year.”
There have, inevitably, also been some low points: “The loss of a child to any school is great and the day I had to announce the death of Michaela Bradley [pupil who passed away in 2010] was a sore blow. Other low points seem to fade as there is little time to dwell on these. One of the strengths of being part of the ‘St. Cecilia’s Family’ is that we are with each other on our good days but especially on the bad ones when a kind word or listening year is needed.”
Mrs. Gormley also believes she has achieved her goals both as teacher and principal: “A principal only achieves their goals if they can get others to buy in and, at times, modify their vision into reality. I have been blessed to be surrounded by wise people and I would like to pay tribute to the Board of Governors of St. Cecilia’s and, in particular, the Chairman Paddy Hume, for his guidance and friendship throughout the years. I have been fortunate to have had good mentors over the years - some from the city and some from beyond but in a special way I would like to thank my first Senior Management Team who managed to get me through my early days as principal - there were 10 in that team and they are a legend in their own right.”
And, does she have any regrets? “None. If I had, my mission would not be complete. Last year’s results and this year’s predicted results are where I wanted to take St. Cecilia’s to. I have no doubt it can continue to be successful. I also knew that, when last year I entered my new office in our new school, the journey towards this ‘new school’ was mine and my job was nearly done.”
However, Kathleen Gormley now has her sights firmly fixed on her new job in Belfast: “I am looking forward to my new job as Principal of Hazelwood Integrated College in North Belfast. It’s a specialist school in Creative Arts and it has great community and parental support. It provides a number of really exciting challenges for any Head teacher. I’m not saying what they are but you will be hearing about them.”
Asked if she’d like to think she’d left a lasting legacy at St. Cecilia’s, Mrs. Gormley said: “You are only as good as what you leave behind you and I know that St. Cecilia’s will continue to go from strength to strength. We have a saying about our committed staff that they have ‘green blood’ (the colours of the school)! I am confident that I leave behind staff who will ensure at different levels that St. Cecilia’s will continue to ‘Aspire, Endeavour and Achieve’.”