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Taking centre Srage: the principal who grew with KDL

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Few principals can say they have been immersed in every part of the school they run, but then Lorraine Srage is certainly not just any principal. At the end of this year, she will celebrate 40 years at King David High School Linksfield (KDHL), having started as a physical education and junior history teacher in 1982.

“I’ve really experienced every single aspect of this school,” says Srage. “I was involved in some of our productions, fundraisers, and those beautiful golf days.” For this, she feels “fortunate”.

In 2015, she was appointed the first female head of a high school under the South African Jewish Board of Education. She puts this progression down to her firm belief in Jewish education, passion for teaching, and enthusiasm for the institution.

At the beginning of 1982, Srage had just finished qualifying as a teacher when the late Elliot Wolf, the then principal of KDHL, asked her to join the school. Some of her students remember her instant impact in the classroom and on the sports field.

Bev Rosenfeld, who has been Srage’s personal assistant for the past six years, was a Grade 10 student at the time. “Lorraine is the same fun, passionate, youthful, and forward-thinking educator today she was then,” says Rosenfeld.

Rosenfeld recalls how Srage went with the students on hikes to the Transkei and Magaliesberg, and always made sports training fun, the matches and galas encouraging.

Rosenfeld’s fellow KDHL student at the time, Nina Cohen, says, “When our new phys-ed teacher, ‘Shraags’, as we called her, arrived, our school lives would never be the same again. With her incredible humour, everything became much more fun than before – even early-morning swimming training. She would shout at me for playing netball, calling it a ‘palooka’ sport, instead of hockey.”

Srage would train with the students by, for example, doing early-morning cross-country training with them along the golf course.

Peter Szewach, another of Srage’s students in 1982 and a history teacher at the school, will never forget the moment when she informed him, “You are in secondary school now, so it’s not necessary to decorate your front page.”

Jocelyn Angel, also a former pupil of Srage’s and a director and history teacher at KDHL, recalls how the person she describes as “a master educator” would jump around the classroom even during the driest of sections, such as Otto von Bismarck’s reunification of Germany.

Srage eventually stopped teaching phys-ed and started teaching history full time. While teaching senior history from 1989 to 2014, she served as form supervisor, vice-principal, head of the history department (during which time the ‘history department dinners’ became the envy of the other subjects), and academic head before being appointed principal in 2015.

Srage took the biggest ulpan group, consisting of 102 students, to Israel for three months in 1992. “I think that was the second-last ulpan, so I’ve just been very blessed,” she says.

Srage’s other highlights include the chagim celebrations at KDHL, welcoming Nelson Mandela to the school, and leading students to victory in inter-high swimming or athletics. She coached virtually all the sports, taking pride in seeing the fruits of her hard work over a season.

“Another highlight was five years ago, when I transformed the Grade 8 and 9 curriculum to the elective system, which has been revolutionary and has given children the ability to believe that they can feel passion for something that they study.”

Srage says that KDHL is one of the few – if any – schools in South Africa to have such a system. “We’re certainly the only Jewish school that has done something so innovative and out of the box.”

Srage also takes pride in seeing what students achieve after school, and is spearheading the building of a makers room and two other major builds in the pipeline – a multimedia centre and an art and drama centre.

“Ironically, the school was much bigger when I first arrived here. But thanks to the amazing work of our foundations, we have been able to continually upgrade facilities. You can’t be looking to the creative and different if your classrooms still look like they did in the 80s and 90s. I remember saying, ‘You can’t want an athletics team to feel like athletes if they train on a rugby field.’”

One of her biggest challenges has been cyberbullying and other problems brought about by technology and social media. In one of her recent valedictory speeches to matrics, she said, “When I first started teaching here, an apple was something you ate; scanning was something that the doctors did on people; and TikTok was something that a clock did.”

Rosenfeld says, “Not a day goes by without Lorraine making me laugh. She supports initiatives that students and staff bring to her, and isn’t afraid to change things around.”

Szewach says Srage has always kept “an open-door policy” and she would make him laugh when she got confused with people’s names.

Before Srage became principal, Szewach and Angel would sit amongst the history books in Srage’s office to discuss perpetually perplexing historical issues such as whether or not Mussolini’s “March on Rome” could even be described as a march.

Angel says that the fact that she and Szewach are now two of the three members in the history department bears testimony to Srage’s strengths as an educator, mentor, and friend.

Renee Freedman, who started her teaching career with Srage at KDHL 40 years ago, says Srage’s commitment has been demonstrated by her determination to complete four Comrades Marathons, her support of KDHL’s sporting teams, and her encouragement of students in their academic endeavours.

“Lorraine has ensured that the inimitable spirit of King David Linksfield lives on,” says Freedman.

Tom Johnson, KDHL’s senior deputy principal, who has known Srage for 35 years, says she has a natural belonging and deep understanding of the school, and her capacity to see the bigger picture and offer pragmatic solutions is admired by colleagues.

He says the values of Srage’s family in South Africa and Australia have moulded her Zionism and love of Israel. “This is echoed strongly in the ethos of the school, evident of our successes in both the Bible and Israel Quiz this year.”

Johnson says Srage is “the consummate entertainer, who can walk into a room full of unknowns and within minutes, be in control of the conversation, share her repertoire of jokes and wit, while providing some of the funniest anecdotes of all time. She will look to provoke a reaction about a football team, the subject one teaches, or anything that’s fair game. All in the name of harmless banter, a unique characteristic.

“The name King David conjures up a powerful image and envy amongst independent schools because of the foundation Lorraine has built on. She is without doubt the greatest professional asset to the South African Board of Jewish Education.”

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  1. Arthur Skok

    Nov 23, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    A great person.

  2. Zillie Abrams

    Nov 23, 2021 at 11:39 pm

    Fantastic to read about your accomplishments. So proud of you. Hard to believe that 40 years have passed and you don’t look a day older than when we saw you last.
    We wish you many more healthy, happy and successful years.
    All our love,
    Stan and Zillie

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