A LOCAL principal with almost 40 years experience has stressed the importance of rural schools within their local communities ahead of his retirement.
A special celebration was held in Drumduff Primary School outside Sixmilecross for Gerard Poytnz on Wednesday night. He is only the third head teacher since the school first opened in 1936.
Last week, Drumduff PS was among a number of local schools highlighted in a report by the Education Authority as having ‘sustainability issues’.
But, speaking to the UH, Mr Poyntz, who will officially step down at the end of August, said small rural schools such as Drumduff have always had “peaks and troughs” in terms of numbers.
“There are 31 pupils currently attending the school,” Mr Poyntz said. “That figure has gone up to over 60 or 70 at times during my 27 years here due to a rising birth-rate. Now the birth-rate has gone down, but we are be expecting it to increase again during the next couple of years.
“Every rural school goes through the peaks and troughs of the birth-rate and the impact this has on the enrolment.”
Mr Poyntz also emphasised that small schools in rural areas have unique advantages over their larger counterparts.
“There is a real family atmosphere here at Drumduff because of its size,” he said.
“The parents are very much part of the school and we all have the one aim of doing the very best for the children here.
“As a result, everyone works well together. The ethos of Drumduff is reflected in the work and the effort of the other teachers and it aligns with the aspirations that the parents have for their children.
“This 2018-2019 school year has been one of memorable progress for the Drumduff pupils who have enjoyed success both academically and in extra-curricular activities.
“Over the years, gaelic football, handball, music and dance have been a key element of school life, and the past year has been one during which the current pupils have excelled.
“We have always had the highest standards here in Drumduff and we’re regularly in the top 25 per-cent of performing schools and often in the top ten per-cent,” Mr Poyntz added.
“This year we have matched that on the sporting front and have six Tyrone handball champions and five who have won Ulster titles.
“For the first time ever, our football team won the Tyrone Cumann NaBunscoil title, the Paddy Bogan Tournament in Beragh and the Dean Maguirc Cup in Carrickmore.
“This has been such a nice send-off for me in my last year. It also reflects the excellent work that has been done with the children in terms of sport from coaches like Conor Gormley in football and Conor McElduff in handball and the local Breacach Handball club and Beragh Red Knights GAA Club.
“Sport really helps the health and mental well-being of the children and it’s important to let them experience a different range of activities.”
Mr Poyntz clearly has a deep connection with Drumduff PS which has been key to his many years at the school.
“The support of the whole community for the school is and always has been first class,” he said.
“That’s probably one of the reasons why I never really considered moving somewhere else because I’m from a rural background myself and I felt from the very start that I fitted in here.”