Forty years after stepping into the classroom as an enthusiastic young teacher, David Gillespie has retired as principal of Tandragee Junior High School, having spent his entire career in the Dickson Plan.
The Dickson Plan is a a two tier system in which the majority of pupils in the Craigavon Borough Council Area and parts of Armagh City and District Council area attend junior high schools for three years before transferring to senior high schools to complete their compulsory education in Key Stage 4.
It is a plan Mr Gillespie fought tirelessly to ensure remains in the area, having witnessed its success from a professional and personal viewpoint.
Not only has he seen successive pupils go on to successful careers, but both his sons went through the system with Ashley now a chartered accountant and Philip an electronic engineer.
Mr Gillespie began his teaching career in the mid-1970s at Clounagh JHS where he taught English and PE and ‘cut his teeth’ under then-principal, the legendary DL (David) Watson.
In 1985, he was appointed to his alma mater, Portadown College, as head of careers with overall responsibility for UCAS applications.
“I was privileged to have as my principal and mentor, Mr Harry Armstrong, a man from whom I picked up so many leadership/management skills which stood me in great stead in later years,” he said.
After Mr Armstrong retired, Mr Tom Flannagan took over the role of principal, and again Mr Gillespie forged a strong working relationship with the new head who also helped develop his leadership skills.
After successfully completing a Master’s degree in Education at Queen’s University and the Professional Qualification for Headship through RTU, Mr Gillespie was appointed principal of Tandragee JHS in 2002 following the retirement of Jim Larmour.
Even though he had completed his qualification in headship, he says nothing prepared him for the role in the ‘hot seat’. Despite the many challenges, he describes his 14 years as principal as “exceptionally enjoyable and immensely rewarding”, and says that with the support of staff and governors “you learn to weather the storm”.
He is also extremely proud to have led the school through two very successful inspections.
In 2010 the school was one of only 12 post-primary schools to be recognised by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) as “very good with outstanding in certain areas”.
In 2014, as part of ETI’s new inspection model, Tandragee JHS was one of five post primary schools piloted, and yet again was described as “outstanding and highly effective in the chosen areas”.
A firm believer that education is more than what takes place in the classroom, he is convinced that involvement in the school’s wide extra-curricular programme is crucial to overall development.
The new principal of Tandragee Junior High School is Wayne Brown.
He is a former teacher at Markethill High School and latterly vice-principal of Cookstown High School.