It was the candidature class with the lowest entry behaviour in over seven years. It was a class that everyone had written off.
I had joined the station approximately six months before they did their first KCSE under my headship. I had left a county school for an extracounty school. This was an academic giant that to an extent had lost its glory. On the handing over day all I could see from the school gate to the administration block was just litter. The school was in a desolate state with dilapidated toilets. In just seven years time, the school that was five streamed was now three streamed.
Having been a principal for nine years, I wanted to get a clear picture of what was wrong in this institution. Everyone starts from somewhere, I started from diagnosis. You can not treat a disease that you do not know.
Many friends of mine who were heads at that time laughed at me. They thought that my transfer to that school was a punishment from the TSC. I took the transfer with clean heart, I took the school with open hands. After all, what could I do?
I lost many friends. The few I remained with thought that this was the end of my career. They said I was doomed. They said that I would drop the school mean from 6.35 to even lower means.
I was prepared for war. And warrior I became. Going through the fire of ridicule, rejection, mocking and here there walkie-talkies I was not burnt, I was refined.
I realized that school is results, then school is enrollment, then school is infrastructure. If you do not have the results nobody respects you. Without the results you loose friends because nobody wants to be associated with a failure. Without the results your opinion does not even count in KESSHA meetings. Without the results parents will not send their form ones to your school. Without results you will be desperate to admit anyone whether they have 85 marks in KCPE or they killed someone in another school because you want numbers. Without results there is no enrollment, without enrollment there is no government funding and without government funding there is no infrastructure. In a school set up results is everything, I realised that. With results comes respect, pride and fulfilment.
I wanted to set the pace. For me, six months was enough time to turn D’s into B’s and C’s into A’s. Six months was enough time to turn people’s laughter into my joy. I did not want to wait for the light at the end of the tunnel, I wanted to be the light at the end of the tunnel. I did not wait to begin with the form threes, No, I wanted to begin with the form fours I found.
All my concern was results. I knew that high school academic success is a game of numbers. I was ready to work with numbers to succeed.
I started with what I called, ‘The First Amendment’. I introduced the Academic Model. The academic model focused on Content Mastery, Content Retention and Content Delivery. As a Chief Examiner, I knew that exams always test content. I also knew that the schools getting mean scores of 9’s and 10’s have mastered the art of content mastery, retention and delivery.
I was not a sheep, I was a lion. I knew that lions will always roar. I was ready to roar by the results I wanted to achieve.
Content Mastery. The syllabus had been covered on time, thank God. I was now focused on syllabus understanding. I realized that there can not be an output without input. I knew that if you do what you have always done you will get what you have always gotten. They said that you reap what you sow, but I came to the realization that you actually reap more than what you sow.
Content mastery could not be achieved without having the content first. We had a ‘Lifestyle Audit Day’. On this day all the students came with their lockers to the dining hall with all their notes right from form one to form four. Subject teachers inspected topic after topic to see if the students had all the notes. Luckily, over 85% of the students had all the notes in all subjects. Those who did not have some topics were given four working days to ensure everything was in space.
The students have the content, so what?
I wanted to cultivate winning instinct in the candidates. I knew that success is a mindset and failure is a result. I knew that students will behave like the Principal and the teachers will behave like the students.
For the students to master the content I introduced study book and working timetable. Stakes were too high and times were too serious. I was focusing on making time and not just managing time. Our academic model was student-centered. I wanted them to make good use of their preps time.
A study book was a book in which the students wrote down the list of all topics right from form one to form four in all the subjects. I knew that if you do what everyone does you will get what everybody gets. I knew that most students all over the country have timetables which run for one hour during preps time. I wanted my students to have 30 minute timetables which was same to all of them. In the morning their preps was running from 4:30AM to 6AM, they were studying three subjects. In the evening their preps was running from 7PM to 9:30PM, they were studying five subjects. Within those 30 minutes the students would only study one topic in that particular subject.
Content retention. Many students can master content, but very few can retain. Because then we had five months before KCSE I designed a way to help my students retain content. I introduced ‘Rapid Assessment Test’. We had to treat the form fours differently. We did things differently because we realized that better results require different tactics and higher standards need better strategies. I knew that you can not have the mindset of 10.0 but work ethic of 3.0.
The lessons for the form fours did not run for 40 minutes like they initially used to but they went for one hour. Every subject had one hour daily. We were looking for the daily bread and not just the yearly bakery. In this one hour, the first thirty minutes were for Rapid Assessment Test. In the Rapid Assessment Test, the students would be given topical KCSE questions in the topic that they had studied during preps time the previous day. No student would sleep or miss preps time because they knew the next day there would be an exam in that topic.
The staffroom became busy, the classroom was even more busier. The teachers who were initially idle watching TV in the staffroom ceased. You could not find a teacher watching TV or basking in the sun, they were busy marking topical scripts from students. The students became active consulting from teachers. They realized that the more you sweat in training the less you bleed in the battle. They realised that the more intense the preparation is the easier the fight will be. They knew that the harder the battle the sweeter the victory.
They were at war with average. They knew that for you to be outstanding you must stand out. They also realised that you can not stand out and fit in at the same time. They stopped dreaming big, they started going big. They stopped wanting success, they decided to be successful.
The students knew that they would not achieve there grades for the sake of the school but for the sake of their futures. They wanted to give their futures purpose and meaning. They knew that nobody goes to campus by mistake and nobody gets an A by accident. They wanted to change the school from a laughing stock to a benchmark. They wanted to bring the most glory of the school back. They demanded what was theirs. They decided to draw their own curve.
The students were at war with their potential. They knew that you can not change what you can tolerate. They wanted it all. They did not want to settle for less. ‘Why settle for a helicopter when you can go for Boeing 737 Dreamliner?’ they would ask me.
Keeping in mind that the subject with the least number of topics from form one to form four was Biology with 17 topics and one with most was Mathematics with 48, most subjects had an average of 30 topics. This meant that within one month the students had finished going through their high school notes once. Within the same period the teachers had given the students 30 topical Rapid Assessment Tests.
Within three months the students had done approximately 90 topical Rapid Assessment Tests in each subject. The teachers did syllabus understanding analysis through topical evaluation. Through the Rapid Assessment Tests they were able to tell which topics the students were weak at, hence have more contact hours in those topics.
On the last month before KCSE, against all odds, the average syllabus understanding was 66%. The average syllabus understanding percentage was gotten by taking the sum of all marks in all the Rapid Assessment Tests in all the subjects divide by the number of Rapid Assessment Tests done.
Hope was already back and scars of failure were slowly healing.
Content delivery. This was now training the students on how to answer questions in the exam. We knew that mastering and retaining content would not help if the students did not know how to put the content in the exam. I was lucky as the school had a few examiners, but we also called resource persons and speakers to add value to our candidates. They were taught how practicals carry more marks in Sciences and how literature is heavy in Languages. They were taught why they should begin with the optional questions before the compulsory ones.
I, being a Chief Examiner, taught them how marking is done. From invitation of examiners, coordination of marking schemes, marking of dummies, team formation, marking live scripts, cross checking, entering marks in marking sheets, adjudication, report writing, moderation, grading, analysing and releasing.
Two weeks before KCSE, we had defeated the historical injustices surrounding Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology. There was less doubting and more believing, there was less hanging out and more working out, there was less problem-focusing and more solution-orientation, there was less weakness and more confidence, there was less showing off and more showing up.
Believe it or not, against all odds, with the help of God, we achieved a mean of 8.79 in that year’s KCSE from 6.35 in the previous year.
Madam Principal, Mwalimu, I understand your pain, I know your struggles. Remember that life is like a boxing championship, defeat is not declared when you get down, but when you refuse to get up.
You did not become a Principal just to have the title of a principal. Think about the struggles you have gone through to be a principal. I understand how you feel when you visit other principal’s offices and see the wide array of trophies carefully and neatly arranged on the trophy cabinets signifying their dominance in academics and co-curriculars yet in your office there is just one trophy which you were awarded because you did not have competitors. I was there too.
You can do it Sir, Madam this is your time, this is your year. Go fast, go big, go global, let the world know your name. Remember, first they will ignore you then they will laugh at you then they will fight you and then you will win.
Let them call you looser, one day they will be coming for benchmarking in your station. Just work. Keep working. Focus on results. Keep your eyes on the prize.
I know the burden is too heavy, the responsibilities are too much, the expectations are too high, the enemies are too many while resources are too limited, but also your God is too big.
Ask yourself the following four questions, Why? Why Not? Why Not Me? Why Not Me Now? Every year we are hearing same schools having mean scores of 9 and 10, why not you?
Results are not achieved by entry behaviour, they are achieved by what you do with the entry behaviour.
Your academic greatness is not determined by the decisions of Jogoo House but the business of your staffroom.
I hear the sound of success, to God be the Glory.
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