Hazelwood Integrated College is bidding a fond farewell to principal Kathleen O’Hare after six years of leading the school in its growth in strength and numbers.
Mrs O’Hare has been a head teacher for 16 years and has been in the profession for 35 years. During this time, she has always maintained a passion for the all-inclusive education of young people in Northern Ireland.
Commenting on her farewell, Mrs O’Hare said: “I have mixed feelings, as whilst I strongly believe every leader should leave when their goals are achieved, I will be sad to leave our lovely students.
“The children of North Belfast are forthright and genuine young people who display a real warmth and welcome to staff and visitors alike.
“They have a great pride in their community and I will miss being greeted by the older students with a cheerful greeting of ‘right Miss’ in the mornings as well as the genuine concern that the staff and the board of governors have for the academic pastoral and academic progress of our pupils.”
During Mrs O’Hare’s time as principal, Hazelwood has witnessed a rise in academic achievement to becoming a top non-selective school in Northern Ireland at both GCSE and A Level.
As a former head of careers, she has maintained her keen interest in promoting careers education. The unique opportunities she has spearheaded have ranged from Hazelwood Goes to Work, where all students have visited a workplace for a day to the recent introduction of an Internship Programme into sixth form in conjunction with Deloitte.
The increase of pupil numbers to over 1,000 has necessitated the securing of a new building programme for practical rooms this year but as the college continues to grow it will need further expansion of its physical resources.
Many of the staff, students and stakeholders have paid tribute to Mrs O’Hare’s leadership.
Two Year 13 pupils remembered back to their arrival at Hazelwood in 2012, also the year Mrs O’Hare joined: “Her introduction was memorable, a promise to provide new experiences and opportunities for our hopeful seven years at Hazelwood: she has lived up to these promises and more.
“She encouraged us through mentoring to accomplish our GCSES and helped us to strive to get to wear the post-16 blazers.
“We are sad to see she is now leaving us, but we will always carry our pride for our school and make her proud.”
Hazelwood also has a vibrant Parent Teacher Association and this provides great boost both in communication as well as driving up standards, according to the college. Many parents have paid tribute to Mrs O’Hare’s leadership.
“Her shining quality is how she personally cares for her staff and most importantly the pupils,” was one tribute.
During her career, Mrs O’Hare has received many accolades, from being UK Headteacher of the Year in 2009, to the Belfast-based Blackboard winner of Head Teacher of the Year in 2017 and from being given the Freedom of the City of London to being made a Fellow of the International Peace School at Messines for her work in peace and reconciliation.
She will take with her many memories of her headship.
“Hazelwood is a college that punches above its weight, it embodies the very essence of what we hope to achieve in a new Northern Ireland.
“At Hazelwood we have a lot to be grateful for and never for one minute should we doubt the difference we make in challenging ourselves and others not to accept easy answers or just to go with the flow.
“Facta non Verba (Action not Words) is our school motto and this is exactly what I see happening every day in an area in North Belfast where children of all faiths and none from over 50 primary schools still cross the divide to be educated together,” said Mrs O’Hare.
In September 2018, Hazelwood Integrated College will welcome its fifth principal, Ms Maire Thompson.
Mrs O’Hare continued: “A college like Hazelwood has many leaders in our student body as well as staff, parents and governors. I wish Ms Thompson along with the senior leadership team, staff and the board of governors well in the continued success of the college for the benefit of our students.”
Mrs O’Hare will continue her role on the governing body of Belfast Metropolitan College and the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment(CCEA).
She has also been invited by the British Council to speak internationally about school improvement.
Trevor Parkhill MBE, chair of Hazelwood Integrated College’s board of governors, commented: “Mrs Kathleen O’Hare has provided inspirational leadership for Hazelwood Integrated College over the last six years.
“She has developed the school in a number of key areas, not least in providing a balanced curriculum that effectively prepares pupils for their future careers, wherever and whatever it may be.
“On behalf of them, the staff, the parents and the Board of Governors, I extend our warmest thanks and best wishes to Kathleen.”