1964 – St. Joseph’s H.S. Golden Jubilee – 2014

September 8, 2014

Continuing with our series of reflections marking the Golden Jubilee anniversary of St. Joseph’s High School, Crossmaglen, The Examiner speaks to most recent past Principal Kevin Scally who retired last year after being at the helm of St.Joseph’s for eleven years. Under his leadership, the school was propelled to the forefront of Catholic Education in Northern Ireland to become one of the most academically successful schools in the province, consistently achieving GCSE and A level results well above the national average.

We caught up with the retired Principal as he holidayed in Florida – his first September holiday in 36 years!

He described himself as “a very lucky man” to have succeeded the towering figures of Bernard Crilly and Frank McCreesh, to take up the mantle of Principal in 2002.

“Both Bernard and Frank are enormously significant individuals in the history of the school, with Bernard having established the school and Frank creating and expanding on the work that Bernard had done,” he said.

“When I arrived into the school,  I hadn’t been in Crossmaglen for many years but the school had an excellent reputation so I had no hesitation in going for the role of Principal – it was a job I really wanted.”

Kevin recalled the warm welcome he received upon his arrival in the school in June 2002.

“Gerry Brown – a fabulous teacher in St.Joseph’s, met me at the door in June 2002 and he shook my hand and said to me ‘I’m with you Kevin, I’m with you.’ That was enormously important to me.

“Remember, I was a Tyrone man and, as such, I was the outsider.The majority of the staff were from south Armagh so to be shown such a welcome was so important. There was huge footballing rivalry at the time between Armagh and Tyrone so it was quite daunting to be a Tyrone man coming into the school.

“South Armagh had a reputation of being introverted and introspective and unwelcoming to outsiders but that certainly wasn’t the experience that I had.  Everyone I met throughout my years  there were more than welcoming to me.  I feel I had tremendous support from the community and from the staff and pupils.”

Asked how he felt about overseeing one of the most significant and successful developments in the school – the introduction of A-Levels, Mr Scally gave credit to the teaching staff who he said “readily responded to his clear vision of raising the academic profile of the school.”

“When i arrived in the school there was a group of us in the school who were very clear about what work which needed to be done to build on the work already done by Bernard and Frank,” he said.

“The number one thing we had to do was to establish St Joseph’s academic credentials.  There were many people who felt that if you were sending your children to a secondary school they did something different than in a grammar school – which of course is not true.

“That’s the reason why we established A-Levels – to set out that we were an academic school.  “We lost no time in implementing this important development, planning for it in September 2002 and opening our sixth form in September 2003. Teachers Gerry Brown, John Jones and Maire Mulligan were key figures in working with me to get the plan off the ground and once we established Sixth form it grew rapidly, primarily because the GCSE results began to get better and better.”

The implementation of A-Levels at St. Joseph’s has been a huge success story for the school, propelling the school to the top of league tables in recent years for its A-Level results and cementing its reputation throughout Northern Ireland as a school of academic excellence.  Indeed, the former Principal reveals that his current work as an associate for various educational organisations throughout the country has made him realise just how renowned the school has become for its academic achievements.

“It’s amazing the number of people I’ve met from Antrim or Derry who have remarked on the school’s excellent academic reputation,” he says.

Members of Staff in St Joseph’s in 1989.

“It’s great because Crossmaglen was always famed for its football team but now it’s renowned not just for its superb football team but for its superb school as well. There’s a great sense of pride having been part of that development and more people have commented on the introduction of A-Levels as a milestone in the history of the school than any other change that occurred in my time.”

Again Mr Scally has huge praise for the staff behind the success of Sixth form, in particular current Principal John Jones, Maire Mulligan and Marie Miller who, he said, “lived and breathed the school and had huge aspirations for it.”

He also attributes the unwavering dedication and commitment from all his colleagues at St. Joseph’s to the many successes the school enjoyed during his eleven years as Principal, notably the “outstanding” Inspection Report of 2005 and his accolade of being named as one of the 150 top Head Teachers in Northern Ireland in 2006.

Mr Scally is quick to share that honour with his former teaching staff,

“That was an accolade not just for me but for the achievements of the school and I was obviously very proud to represent the school at the time,” he says adding,

“None of it would have been possible without the outstanding support of St. Joseph’s staff.”

He also had high praise for the pupils of St. Joseph’s over the years,

“I‘ve worked in six schools throughout Northern ireland and I would say the pupils of south Armagh and Crossmaglen were the best behaved, most biddable pupils I ever had the pleasure to work with.

“People would presume that south Armagh children growing up in the shadow of the Troubles would have no respect for rules or regulations but I certainly found the opposite to be true.  “St.Joseph’s students had huge respect for rules and for each other and were sensitive to the needs of other people.

“Somehow the history of south Armagh needs to record that practice,” he added

Paying tribute to his successor Principal John Jones, Mr Scally said the school had been “very fortunate to have John waiting there in the wings to step up, despite the fact he’s a Down man!” he joked.

“John was a much loved teacher and Head of Pastoral Care and his appointment as Principal was a natural progression that has been warmly welcomed in the community.

“The school is in excellent hands with John who I have no doubt will continue to maintain the school’s reputation as one of the most academically successful all-inclusive schools in Northern Ireland.”