HAVING spent seven years teaching in the busy Prep Department at Larne Grammar, Gail Ferguson’s move to Kilbride Central Primary School near Burnside must have come as a bit of a shock to the system.
When she took on the role of Vice-Principal at Kilbride in January 1988, the school had an enrolment of fewer than 70 pupils, only three classes, and just three teaching staff.
More than 24 years on, Kilbride Central Primary now has 125 pupils and a staff of around 20. And Mrs Ferguson, who is taking early retirement from her post as Principal at the end of August, is extremely proud of how the school has grown and developed over the past two decades - particularly during her 14 years as Headteacher.
Speaking to the Times this week, Mrs Ferguson admitted that the first time she was due to visit the Moyra Road school she had some trouble locating it.
“I came up to look for the school and I couldn’t find it,” she said, laughing. “A lot of people thought I was going to work in Scotland in East Kilbride.
“I’m glad I eventually found it and I’ve been very happy here. I have a brilliant, well established staff here who are very supportive. We have great fun here with the kids and there’s a great atmosphere within the school.
“I’m very happy to be leaving the school the way it is - that it’s very sustainable, and that within the community it is very well thought of.”
Mrs Ferguson, who teaches P7 pupils and children with special needs, was appointed Acting Principal at Kilbride in 1996 and took over as Principal two years later.
She says the school has “gone from strength to strength” over the past two decades, pointing to the expansion of the school buildings, development of the grounds and improvements to the children’s learning and play facilities.
“The biggest change over the years has been the enrolment. We now have 125 children, seven classes and a staff of about 20. I think we have managed to put Kilbride on the map. Beforehand I would have said it was a well hidden gem.”
Mrs Ferguson puts the success of the school in recent years down to careful budget management and planned development, as well as a hard-working staff, supportive parents and Governors, an active PTA and the backing of the local community.
With many schools facing cutbacks, amalgamation or even closure, Mrs Ferguson is happy to be leaving Kilbride in such good health.
“My vision for the school was to improve the enrolment, to make it a successful school and certainly our results show that. Our Key Stage results are well above the average for a school this size and the parents know their children are getting a good all round education.
“It’s lovely now that I do feel the school is on the map and well known and very popular and that the children are well looked after,” she said.
Mrs Ferguson, who lives in Drains Bay near Larne, will spend the next couple of months preparing to hand over to her successor - an appointment still to be decided by the Board of Governors and the NEELB.
Over the next few weeks, staff and pupils will be holding a number of events to mark Mrs Ferguson’s retirement and thank her for her years of service to the school.
After officially leaving her job in August, she’ll still have plenty to fill her time, travelling and working on getting her golf handicap down.
“I will miss the camaraderie among the staff and the children. There are excellent relationships between everyone at the school and I will miss that very much.
“I will be sad to go because this has been a huge part of my life and I have been very, very happy here. The people in this area really are very much the salt of the earth, they are brilliant, and the youngsters too, I’m very, very proud of them,” she added.