Several long-serving teachers have said a fond farewell to Monkstown Community School after deciding the time is right to move on.
With the Bridge Road school due to merge with Newtownabbey Community High from September to create the new Abbey Community College at the Monkstown site, a number of senior members of staff have elected to take voluntary redundancy. They will officially finish next month after students receive their exam results.
Among those saying farewell to Monkstown are principal Nigel Pell-Ilderton, vice principal Raymond Leeman and long-serving teachers Nigel Curtis, Head of Technology, Blanche Gallaher, Head of English, and Bobby Gibson, ICT and Tech and Design.
Mr Pell-Ilderton, known to many at the school as Mr PI, took over as principal in 2011 with his philosophy of “challenge everything.”
He implemented a number of changes at the school during his four years as headmaster and claims his key achievements as “raising expectations, getting the curriculum right and improving the quality of teaching and learning.” But he admits that his positive view of the school’s performance wasn’t always shared by the Education and Training Inspectorate.
Mr Pell-Ilderton, who is originally from Manchester and qualified as a maths teacher at Durham University, is particularly proud of the 2014 GCSE and A Level results - the school’s best ever set of grades.
While he’s enjoyed his time at Monkstown, he describes the education system in Northern Ireland as “profoundly different” to what he was used to in England.
Thanking pupils, staff and governors for their support during his four years in charge, he commented: “I have enjoyed my time here and I suppose I will probably miss the kids more than anything. In a true Irish expression, they are just good craic.
“The vast majority of them are passionate about doing well and we want to give them those opportunities.”
The 55-year-old is leaving Monkstown to take up a new role with the Regional Training Unit in Belfast.
While he was unsuccessful in his bid for the top job at Abbey Community College, Mr Pell-Ilderton has wished new principal Maria Quinn and her staff well for the future, saying he hopes the new school will go from strength to strength.
Also calling it a day ahead of the merger in September is Mr Leeman, who started at the school as a science teacher in September 1980.
Educated at Belfast High and Stranmillis College, the long-serving vice principal admits he’s loved working at Monkstown and will miss day-to-day life in school.
“It’s been brilliant. I wouldn’t change it. That’s the thing about this school, the number of teachers who when they have arrived have stayed here for a long, long time. The vast majority really enjoy it here,” he said.
“Working in the science department has been brilliant. The original Head of Science when I came here, Ian McClelland, was a fantastic guy. He created an ethos in the science department that has stayed with us ever since, of fellowship and craic and never taking yourself too seriously.”
The 59-year-old, who is married with two sons, decided to take the offer of voluntary redundancy, citing the upcoming merger of the two schools as “the right time to go.”
“It just seemed to be an appropriate place to stop, to leave the way for new people to come in and create their own new traditions,” he continued.
Mr Leeman describes Monkstown Community School as “one of the world’s best kept secrets”, saying that visitors and substitute teachers have found that standards of behaviour and discipline are far in excess of what they expected.
“You just have so many memories of so many children - the good ones and the bad ones,” he added.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here and I will really miss the place and the people.”
The outgoing VP says he has no plans as yet for the years ahead, but is looking forward to spending more time with his family.