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Lees is more for KDVP’s new principal

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King David Victory Park (KDVP) Primary School’s new principal, Kevin Lees, describes himself as a traditionalist in terms of teaching and learning, but also unconventional and flexible.

“If COVID-19 proved anything, it’s that we can’t simply rely on tried and tested methods of education,” he says. “It has brought some positive changes like blended learning and the use of technology.

“The flexibility it brought was also positive, as was the re-examination of key aspects of the curriculum, making us focus on the essentials. COVID-19 will be with us for some time, but I hope that when things get back to normal, we won’t ignore what worked, and lose that reflection and movement.”

Lees takes over from Rabbi Ricky Seeff, who has been appointed general director at the South African Jewish Board of Education. He may have been just a week in the job, but his commitment to the school and enthusiasm for everything education is palpable.

He was appointed in March, though he started his tenure at the beginning of October. It was a bombshell month for educators, with schools suddenly locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and teachers having to adapt overnight to online teaching. Lees saw out the storm in his former post as head of Theodor Herzl Primary in Port Elizabeth.

Lees says he believes we shouldn’t “sweat the small stuff”. He isn’t obsessed with hair length or uniforms, though he stipulates that children must be “well presented”. That was another interesting change wrought by COVID-19 – when children were allowed to go to school in civvies.

“Children should be given a level of flexibility to learn in a different way,” he says. “My previous classes were allowed to experiment with flexible seating, though admittedly it didn’t work for everyone – and sometimes, some children just need to be given a break when needed.”

It doesn’t undermine how seriously he takes the job. “Teachers aren’t merely facilitators,” he says. “We play a massive role in the lives of children. Teaching and learning must evolve. We must incorporate methods and curricula relevant to the 21st century.”

Lees has been an educator for 22 years, first at St George’s Preparatory in Port Elizabeth, followed by a stint in London, then becoming head of Theodor Herzl in 2012, where he doubled enrolment during his tenure. The career educator, who also has a degree in theology, says he felt an immediate connection with the philosophy, ethos, and approach of Theodor Herzl.

The ability to adapt and be flexible are strengths of Jewish schools, he points out, which aren’t tied up with unnecessary tradition, and have a critical-thinking culture. So, too, is an intimate connection between teacher and child, leading children to feel safe and secure. This is a particular strength of KDVP, by virtue of its size and teacher-child ratio.

Like Theodor Herzl, KDVP Primary School is small – with about 300 pupils. It allows the principal to know every pupil and parent and have an “open-door” policy, creating a sense of community, and making it easier to manage.

“We doubled enrolment at Theodor Herzl, but I wouldn’t go bigger than that,” Lees points out. Other strengths are that there is greater participation by all children in sport and the arts. “KDVP is known for its whole-school dramatic productions,” he says, “this is impossible at bigger schools.”

Though he’s not Jewish, he believes religion plays a beautiful and significant role in education. An environment like King David leads to reflection, critical thinking, and social responsibility, which is what sets our community apart. Children at King David are brought up to see themselves as part of a community, not just as individuals, and this is critically important. To this extent, he’s looking forward to working with the vibrant and closely connected Jewish community in Gauteng.

Lees is aware that he is filling big shoes in taking over from Rabbi Seeff, who was an inspiring leader and made many positive changes to the school. “Rabbi Seeff isn’t lost to the system,” he says, “we will lean on him.” But he points out that as a career educator, perhaps he brings a different lens to the job. “There is a debate among principals about the value of teachers running schools,” he says, “but if you have spent time in the classroom, it influences your perspective. Fundamentally, you must be motivated by a love for children, and be willing to listen to those around you.”

Lees is an educator and a parent – he has children who are enrolled at King David, so he is uniquely equipped to see things from both perspectives.

He has outlined four main tasks for himself in the next year. First, he wants to familiarise himself with the school, tuning into its culture, the board, and the community. He stresses that he will be careful about making changes before he has done so. He hopes to build trust and confidence among the community. Second, he will identify areas of concern by walking around and interacting with people on the ground. Third, he emphasises the continued fallout of COVID-19, ensuring the continued success of blended learning. The pandemic’s emotional impact on children is still to be felt, and he aims to address this too. Fourth, Lees is prioritising the building of partnerships and networks – educational and in the Jewish community – in Gauteng, where the community is particularly vibrant.

Finally, he may just learn some Hebrew. “I was cornered by a teacher at Theodor Herzl, who said she would teach me Hebrew, but I don’t have a gift for languages,” he comments. “Though, in a sense, it’s given me a sense of what the children go throug

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