At the start of this month Deirdre O’Kane took over as principal of St. Patrick’s and St. Brigid’s College in Claudy.
She knew she had big shoes to fill, taking on the post after the retirement of long term principal Jack McCauley - and coming into a close knit school community came with its own concerns.
But as soon as she stepped through the doors of the school she sensed this was a school which offered something a little bit more - and where she will be able to make her mark over the coming years.
“The staff have been very welcoming - from the first time I visited before my interview - to now. And that is all staff - from our teachers to our support staff and our office staff.
“The first thing I noticed was there was a very happy environment in the school and that the staff are all very much working together as a team.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two weeks calling into the classrooms to see how the children are settling into the new term - and to get to know the teachers and what is evident is that there is a real passion for teaching and supporting children to meet their individual potential,” Mrs O’Kane said.
Having spent her early years in her mother’s native Scotland, Mrs O’Kane moved to Derry when she was eight - and was a pupil of St. Eugene’s PS and St. Mary’s College .
She said her very positive experience of St. Mary’s also gave her insight into just how children ‘who have already been deemed failures by the system’ can thrive in a good learning environment.
Her passion for good teaching has travelled with her through her career to date. She was previously taught Drama and English at Hazelwood College in Newtownabbey before moving on as head of department to Malone College in Belfast. A move (‘closer to home’) took her subsequently to Cambridge House Grammar in Ballymena where she took on the role of Vice Principal.
Her move to Claudy marks her first time as a principal and it is a challenge she relishes.
Already she has big plans for the school - which has been producing league table leading results in the Derry City Council area over the last few years,
With her passion for the creative arts intact she is looking to expand those within the school.
“We already have a very strong music department and I would like to see us expand our creative arts skills further. There is nothing as rewarding as seeing a child’s confidence and ability grow through their love for drama or performance. I think we have the base here to build on that.”
Of course she wants to continue achieving the high level of success at exams that her predecessor did but she says the school’s strength lies not only in academic achievement but “in a very strong pastoral care system”,
“We are an all ability school - and we believe every child can succeed. It’s our role to help each child in our care fulfil their potential - something which is not always solely about exam results.”
Long term goals include a new build for the school, and a possible extension into sixth form provision - but for now, Mrs O’Kane is very much enjoying settling into her role.
“I firmly believe this school has so much to offer, with a team working very closely together to make sure it continues to thrive.”