End of an era, as Principal Scally retires

July 1, 2013

Last week saw the end of an era for St Joseph’s High School, Crossmaglen, as their revered Principal, Kevin Scally retired.  Mr Scally has been at the helm of the local secondary school for eleven years and, along with his dedicated staff, has propelled the non-selective school to the forefront of Catholic education in Northern Ireland.

The school is now one of the most academically successful schools in the province, consistently achieving GCSE and A level results well above the national average.  Outside of academics, St Joseph’s continues to have success on the sporting field and music provision is at an all-time high with the spring concerts showcasing the musical and dramatic talents of the pupils each year.

Staff and students paid tribute to Mr Scally for his leadership throughout the past decade in a poignant retirement ceremony in the school last Wednesday evening.

Speaking at the retirement evening, Mr Scally said he “loved being a teacher” and the world of education.

“I have worked in a noble profession; teaching children, all children, and always teaching in schools which include everyone and exclude none,” said the proud Principal, whose career in education spans some 35 years, bringing him from Birmingham to New York and back to Northern Ireland, where he spent 6 years at St. Brigid’s, Armagh, first as Vice Principal, then as Principal before being appointed Principal of St.Joseph’s in 2002.

He paid tribute to past principals Archie McMullan, Bernard Crilly and Frank McCreesh before congratulating the entire school for the achievements of the last eleven years.

“We – all of us – have achieved so much together – we have made a huge difference by working together,” he said.

“I’m not just talking about the teachers and classroom assistants.  I include in that our Board of Governors, the Admin staff, Canteen Staff, our cleaners, our bus drivers – all working together for the good of our community – helping to build a better future for the youngsters of south Armagh”

Speaking to The Examiner on his last official day with the school last Friday, Mr Scally spoke of the support he had received from the local community throughout his years in St. Joseph’s.

“Although I am a Strabane man, a Tyrone man, the people from this area have been very supportive. Rarely have I been described as an ‘outsider’. Even though Tyrone/Armagh football rivalry has often been intense during these years, I have been given a very warm welcome, and people recognise my commitment to this community.  Part of my heart will always be in Crossmaglen, and my first footballing love is the Rangers! Long may they reign! “

The outgoing principal said when he first arrived in 2002, he had a clear vision of raising the academic profile of the school. The teachers readily responded to that challenge, he said, to make the school one of the most academically successful schools in the North.

Recalling changes and hurdles over the years, Mr Scally said the biggest challenge, and the biggest success had been the introduction of A-levels.

“Our sixth form is now thriving and it is clear that our students prefer to remain in Crossmaglen than travel elsewhere. More people have commented on the introduction of A-levels than on any other change that has occurred in my time at the helm,” he said adding,

“Two other big successes during my time here were the ‘outstanding’ Inspection Report in 2005. Then in 2006, we were honoured when I was invited by Tony Blair to a reception in Downing Street for 120 top schools from England, Wales, Scotland and N Ireland.”

He also noted major changes in the attitudes and aspirations of students and parents.

“Many youngsters now want to go into third level education and get into professional careers. They work harder in class, and there is little indiscipline. When there is poor behaviour, parents are very supportive and problems are sorted out quickly. The behaviour in St Josephs is excellent.”

Mr Scally took the time to mention the support he has received from his senior colleagues at St. Joseph’s; Vice Principals John Jones and Maire Mulligan.

“Maire in an inspirational teacher, and curriculum planner. She has been central to all of the curricular changes that have occurred in the last 11 years.”

Commenting on Vice Principal John Jones becoming the new Principal, he said

“John is a much loved teacher and Head of Pastoral Care and will prove to be a great Principal. His appointment as my successor has been warmly welcomed in the community.

“I expect that John Jones will continue our campaign ‘Scoil Nua Anois’. We have provided a great education despite the poor quality of our accommodation. However, it is only fair that the children of south Armagh are provided with the same facilities as those in Newry and elsewhere.

Concluding, the highly regarded Principal said he hoped to continue his connection with education.

“I am passionately committed to all-ability non-selective catholic education and I will continue to be involved in promoting it. In St Joseph’s, the achievements of our students have shown that all children are capable of academic achievements. Grammar schools have outlived their time, and the transfer exam is not fit for purpose.

“Through the pages of the Examiner, I would like to thank the entire south Armagh community for their support and encouragement during the last eleven wonderful years.”