“It has been my greatest privilege to have served the pupils, parents and wider community of the school during this time.”
Those were the words of Ronnie Kelly, principal of St Joseph’s College in Coleraine, as he addressed the audience at his final prize night as he retired after 38 years at the school, 15 of those as its head.
Mr Kelly reminisced: “My future career decision to become a teacher was influenced by a film that inspired me. The film was ‘To Sir with Love”, starring Sidney Poitier as a young black teacher trying to improve the lives of the pupils from a deprived area of inner London. It was from this point that I began to view teaching as my personal path in life, through which I could hopefully make a difference.
“As principal of St Joseph’s, I fully believed that the corner stone to pupil success lay in encouraging pupil self belief and worth. With this aim I always drew strength from my own underlying values, “no one is ever better than me, but at the same time I am no better than anyone else.”
“I suppose you could call me an old fashioned socialist. Someone who believes that we are all of equal value and that every young person has the right to dream. Every adult has the duty to encourage and support our youth to fulfil their potential.”
Echoing the words of Martin Luther King, Mr Kelly said, “As principal, I too had a dream - to lead a school that always strives for excellence. In 2011 St Joseph’s was third in the ranking of academic performance in Northern Ireland for the non-selective secondary sector. This performance was improved upon in the following year when we were ranked as the top performing school in the Province.
“I had a dream that such high standards would be maintained for all our pupils and consistently over successive years academic results have excelled. I had a dream that our students would move on to third level education and the world of work and stand tall, equal to all. This year’s results from those graduating from university saw 25% of our past pupils graduating with a first class honours degree. Testimony to the influence that St Joseph’s has
had on their lives, if indeed one is needed.
“I can’t leave without offering special thanks to the phenomenal staff who I have had the privilege to work with here in St Joseph’s. They have never ceased in their efforts to encourage and cajole each and every pupil to aspire and reach their full potential.”
New principal Mrs Mary Millar, said: “Mr Kelly was passionate in his love for St Joseph’s College. He had a vision for the school which he summed up when he created the school motto ‘Believe, Achieve, Succeed.’ His greatest strength was that he never gave up on a child, even when they had given up on themselves.
“His mantra to everyone when making decisions was ‘put the child at the centre and then you can’t go wrong.’”
Addressing her colleague, Mrs Millar said: “Ronnie, you never wasted time on ‘if only’, it was always ‘upwards and onwards’ striving to attain the best for all the members of the St Joseph’s community. We will really miss your friendship and guidance...it won’t be the same without you.”