I have often thought about this question, and although I cannot give a definitive answer, I am certainly in a position to comment. Over two years ago, the Principal of a neighbouring independent school asked me what it is that distinguishes St John’s from other top girls’ schools in the area. This is due primarily to many discussions with parents and staff, as well as a multitude of formal interviews for teaching posts and nearly 400 interviews with prospective parents during the past three years.
The most common observations on what makes us unique, as expected, relate to the small size of the school, the individual care afforded to each girl, the caring ethos, the lack of materialism and the high percentage of girls and parents from farms or small town communities. We are seen as a school to provide a quality, balanced education which encourages excellence in academics, sport and cultural activities, and in which the potential of each girl is optimised. What distinguishes us, therefore, is the balance between this excellence and the retention of values such as humility and authenticity.
These factors are all true, but I would like to propose that the following three timeless principles contribute significantly towards our unique character:
1. Our adherence to a biblical worldview as opposed to a more populist, secular worldview.
2. Our commitment to honouring and supporting each other as members of our community.
3. Our effort to develop each girl’s strengths and passions as opposed to our own agenda.
A worldview is the framework from which we view reality and try to make sense of life and the world. According to David Noebel, author of Understanding the Times, “It is any ideology, philosophy, theology, movement or religion that provides an overarching approach to understanding God, the world and man’s relations to God and the world.” Recent research in Western countries such as the United States reveal that most people have little idea how to integrate core biblical principles to form a unified and meaningful response to the challenges and opportunities of life. The media bombards us with a secular worldview. This appeals to the average person as the focus is on wants and desires, as opposed to the common good. The bible, however, warns us as follows: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) This essentially contradicts the populist, self-focused attitude prevalent today.
In successful teams, institutions or communities, co-operation, collaboration and support are essential ingredients. This leads to my second principle, regarding teamwork. This past weekend I watched our national Sevens rugby team, the Blitzbokke, win the Paris Sevens Tournament and at the same time be crowned the World Rugby Sevens Series Champions for 2017. If you watch this group of talented young South African men, you cannot help but admire their team spirit, support of each other, discipline, passion, and genuine love for their sport. Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” This is certainly true for the Blitzbokke and has been in evidence at St John’s D.S.G. this year.
Andrew Carnegie describes teamwork as “the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results” and Henry Ford stated the following: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” At St John’s we strive to put the needs of the school and of others above our own, which is directly opposed to the secular worldview. However, by putting others first we ultimately benefit ourselves in the long run as by edifying those around us we build a stronger community of which we are a part. It is not a sign of weakness to put others first – in fact it is a sign of strength to go against the norm.
Ultimately, we are teaching girls to think for themselves, be independent, and trust these timeless values so that they are not victims to the countless trends, fads and hypes around the world. I believe that there are some absolute truths, which we cannot waver from. These include: honouring all humans as equals; the treatment of each other with love and respect as opposed to judging them and to nurture individual qualities and strengths as unique contributors to a greater collective or community.
I have been delighted to observe the excellence demonstrated in our sports and music performances this year, as well as in our recent FUNK performance. These activities have been undertaken with both joy and dedication. However, without the adherence to the principles discussed briefly above, we are no different to any other good school. I hope that these principles, so valued by those who choose to invest their daughters’ futures in St John’s are embraced and supported by the community as a whole, and that this message has provided some food for thought.
Please be aware that the new P.A. Pavilion is still on track for completion by the end of July. Thank you to the community for your patience throughout the building process, and to the P.A. for their dedication to this exciting project. Please remember that we plan to hold 120th birthday celebrations on 8 September, along with an official Pavilion opening.
We are also currently planning the move of our front entrance back to Harwin Road, which will hopefully be complete during 2018. We will keep you posted regarding developments.
Congratulations to Miss Pinkie Msomi (Senior School Receptionist) who welcomed Ntandoyenkosi on 9 May, weighing 3kg. We wish them both well.
I thank all who continue to add value to the school, and contribute in so many ways. This makes it a very special place in which to work. I wish you all a relaxing half-term and hope the girls rest well before the June examinations commence.