Principal of the new St Ronan’s College, Newry-born Michele Corkey has exciting ambitions for the school and its pupils.
Not only has she spent the last six months working towards the opening of the college but is pushing forward with plans for a new-build school which she aims to have open within three and a half years.
A qualified music teacher, Mrs Corkey rose through the ranks at St Mary’s High School in Newry as head of music and had 13 years in senior management at the all-girls school.
In 2008 she was appoiinted principal of St Mark’s in Warrenpoint - a 900 children co-educational school.
She is proud of her background in the non-selective sector. “That is very important to me. This is one of Northern Ireland’s first non-selective grammar schools. Not very many people in their career get the chance to build a school in every aspect of that term, to create a school and we get to build a school. And you get to do it all with your dream of what education should be for every child. It was just an amazing opportunity,” said the former chairperson of the Catholic Principals Association.
A past pupil of Our Lady’s Grammar School in Newry, Mrs Corkey said her mother was her inspiration. “I saw what she did and she worked very hard and her job was so rewarding. She was head of music in St Patrick’s High School in Banbridge.”
When asked what sort of schoolgirl she was, Mrs Corkey said she was a ‘good girl’. “I didn’t rock any boats,” she said laughing.
Mrs Corkey has huge hopes for St Ronan’s College. “Our school motto is Excellence in Everything and we want the College to be a centre of excellence where every child in our community is welcome into our school. They will be able to come into our school without the stigma of rejection, without having to sit tests, without having to worry about ‘well where am I going to go to be in the good class’.
“They come in and we teach them. We push every child to be the best they can be. Every child can study at a pace and level they need and, more importantly, can do exams that will give them success and then to follow the careers that they want.”
Mrs Corkey is keen to push through the new build. “This has been Monsignor Hamill’s dream for a very long time. He wanted all the children in Lurgan educated under the one school.”
The new school design and build team will be known within a week. “We have received £32.5m from the minister. That’s banked, I hope,” she said, adding the new school should be built within four years.
Mrs Corkey revealed the complexity of organising 1450 children over three sites. Conscious of the new build, at the old St Michael’s site, there was a need to phase down numbers so A level children are housed there, while the Key Stage Four children are at the former St Paul’s site and the Key Stage Three at the former St Mary’s site.
“It has been a challenge. I took up position on January 1 so we had just six months. We had the logistics of making the girls school appropriate for boys and the boys school appropriate for girls.
“Then we had the pupils and to make sure they had a curriculum that met their needs, so they knew what subjects they were going to follow.”
“All staff came across, we didn’t lose anyone in the move - 96 teaching staff and 93 support staff. People’s jobs were secure but we were able to create our new teams within that, obviously a new principal and new vice principals, one responsible for each site,
At the St Mary’s site Dr Moore, Mr Charlie McConville Key at the stage 4 site and Mrs Aoife Cosgrove for Key stage 5 and they are supported by two senior leaders on their site, so there is a mini management team on every site
Mrs Corkey said the community had got behind the school and they had received many messages of support. The school was hoping for an initial intake of 1,400 and Mrs Corkey said she was delighted to welcome 1,450 pupils.
“We are up a third in terms of our year eight numbers from last year which is fantastic. We have had some movement, year nine and ten and, most significantly, we have had children return to us from other areas for example Banbridge, Newry, Armagh and Lisburn,
Asked if this was to do with the bus pass issue - with children leaving the town for other schools not allowed free transport, “I think it is more to do with what they perceived to be the quality of education and maybe the fact that we are called a grammar school. I can’t say the buss pass didn’t have an impact but people have made the decision that they wanted their children to continue their education, their GCSEs and more particularly their A levels in this community.”
She said St Ronan’s College aims not just to be a school which educates but a school that cares with a great emphasis on pastoral care.
Mrs Corkey paid tribute to the Trustees, the Bishop and Monsignor Hamill, a driving force behind the project.
She also paid tribute to the three principals who worked hard to get it off the ground,