Unlocking Potential: Cape Flats School Transformed through Leadership Development and Partnership

The corridors of Lavender Hill High echo with the sounds of laughter, learning and a sense of community. It’s all thanks to the leadership of the school’s principal, Fuad Viljoen. He is not just a leader – he’s a beacon of hope, constantly working towards unlocking the unbridled potential of the school’s learners and staff.

But creating a school like this does not happen by chance. Knowing this, Viljoen, who was appointed the principal of Lavender Hill High in 2020, joined leadership development NPO, Citizen Leader Lab, to help him navigate his new role, and shape the school as an agent for transformation in the community.

Citizen Leader Lab develops and strengthens the capacity of leaders in the private and public sectors. Through its unique learning methodology, the organisation partners leaders in business with leaders in the public sector. One of these programmes pairs principals from schools in under-resourced communities with business leaders and together they embark on a structured 12-month leadership programme. Principals receive the support and skills needed to lead change and mobilise communities around their schools, and business leaders develop new leadership skills through exposure to the complex world of the South African public school. Viljoen was paired with Brett Fish Anderson, a representative of social change organisation, Heartlines.

Lavender Hill High is situated in an area where gangsterism, substance abuse, drive-by shootings and rampant gender-based violence are rife. Many of the schools’ 1,261 learners are frequently exposed to this violence and trauma. Through all that, the school has managed to maintain a matric pass rate of between 78-90%. The schools’ five year vision is to increase the quality of its matric passes, with more learners obtaining bachelor passes and entry to tertiary studies.

As a principal appointed from another school in the community, Viljoen says that it was vital for him to spend time getting to know the school’s set up, staff and learners before he could think of tangible ways to improve the school.

‘’It was difficult as first, but the skills of contracting, negotiating and influencing that I learnt on the Citizen Leader Lab programme, and a bit of trial and error, helped me to identify who were my most trustworthy colleagues,’’ says Viljoen.

He says that interacting with other principals and business leaders on the programme helped him navigate the ‘’choppy waters’’ of being an ‘’outsider’’.

‘’I was at a Community of Practice meeting with the other principals and business leaders doing the programme from our area. The principal from Mitchell’s Plain Primary shared her struggles of being a new principal at a new school. Her story really resonated with me, and so we began to exchange ideas on how to overcome our shared challenges,’’ says Viljoen.

At the same time, Anderson wanted to establish a relationship built on foundations of trust and friendship with Viljoen before getting to grips with the school’s challenges. He says that he soon discovered that being an ‘’unconventional business leader’’ had many unexpected benefits for their partnership:

‘’I couldn’t necessarily raise the money to build, say, a new computer room for Lavender Hill High, but I actually found that imparting my skills of storytelling and creating connection was more useful to Fuad. We were able to think outside the box about solutions that could actually work in a school.’’

Viljoen and Anderson used these ‘’outside the box solutions’’ to tackle the school’s long-standing issue of staff inclusion. Viljoen says that they decided to intentionally include all staff members in school activities, and this became the defining moment is his leadership journey with Anderson.

‘’There was this notion that the word staff only referred to the teachers, but everyone from the admin staff to the support staff are all contributing to the upliftment of Lavender Hill High. Including all the staff in activities, and Brett’s continued interaction with them, has made us more cohesive and unified, ‘’ Viljoen mentions.

Anderson says that being invited to speak at Lavender Hill High’s valedictory service became the defining moment in his partnership with Viljoen.

‘’I was given the opportunity to speak life into the positive story of hope that is Lavender Hill High. Later I learnt that the matric learners specifically asked that I speak. I was just so humbled to play a significant part in inspiring them and being a voice in that space,’’ says Anderson.

Imagine having the opportunity to unlock the potential of a school in your community – just like Brett Fish Anderson and Fuad Viljoen did at Lavender Hill High. Embark on a transformative journey, gain valuable insights and create innovative strategies to overcome challenges in schools, all while honing your ability to lead in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.

Citizen Leader Lab runs programmes all over South Africa. The next intake of business leaders and school principals is happening in Cape Town in September 2023. For more information contact hani@citizenleaderlab.org.

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