FAIR Hill Primary School principal Mrs. Cynthia Clinghan retires at the end of the month after 39 years in teaching and more than a decade at the helm of the Kinallen school.
Mrs. Clinghan has steered Fair Hill through significant growth during 11 years as principal, but her association with the school dates back - after a fashion - to a time before it had even come into being, back, indeed, to the beginning of her teaching career.
A native of nearby Dromara, Mrs. Clinghan was educated at Down High School and first entertained the notion of a career in physiotherapy. “But when I visited the physiotherapy department at the hospital,” she said, “I realised it wasn’t for me. I suddenly thought I would like to be a teacher and I haven’t looked back.”
The road ahead took her to Stranmillis, where she graduated in 1973. Her first post? P2 teacher at Kinallen Primary School, one of three small schools effectively amalgamated in 1997 to give birth to Fair Hill.
“I’ve always taught in and around my own doorstep,” said Mrs. Clinghan, “and I have enjoyed all of it.”
After seven years at Kinallen, Mrs. Clinghan was appointed principal of Gransha Primary School, another of Fair Hill’s three component parts.
Some 17 years later she was among those to realise the writing was on the wall for many small schools.
“Small schools were beginning to come under the hammer,” she said, “and we had to think what would be right for the community? Did we wait until numbers dwindled and there were no schools, or look at the possibilities and at least have one school within the community?”
So it was that Kinallen, Gransha and Carnew Primary Schools were stricken from the roll in favour of the all-new Fair Hill Primary and Mrs. Clinghan herself returned to Kinallen, essentially coming full circle.
“I came to Fair Hill in 1997 as vice-principal under Moira Alexander,” she said, “and in 2001, when Moira retired, I was appointed principal.”
Overy the years Mrs. Clinghan has of course witnessed a fair bit of change.
“At the smaller schools,” she said, “there was no opportunity for a lot of sport, for instance; there were no facilities. That changed when we went into Fair Hill, with all its wonderful facilities. That has been fantastic for the children.
“Then, in 2004 I think, the new all-weather pitch brought a lot of change for the children, who enjoyed so much after-school sport; it was fantastic just to see them enjoy going out there and competing with other schools on an equal footing.”
There have been changes too, in the curriculum, but arguably the biggest change has been one of continuing growth and expansion, in staff and pupil numbers and in the size of the school itself.
“In 1997 we had 147 pupils,” said Mrs. Clinghan, “and when September comes there will be more than 300; that has been a huge change and seeing the school go from strength to strength has been fantastic.
“We have had one extension in my time, a development proposal has been submitted for another, and, after 10 years of fighting to prove the need, we now have a nursery unit; it’s been fantastic to see those developments.”
So (cue stupid question) - will Mrs. Clinghan miss it all, in her looming retirement?
“Of course I’m going to miss it,” she said. “I made the decision and now I’m trying not to think about it, but there comes a time, when you reach 60 and you don’t have the same sort of energy. Being a principal is not the easiest of jobs; it takes a lot of energy and a lot of time - it’s not nine-to five - and you have to be prepared to give all you have.”
Mrs. Clinghan has no firm plans for her retirement, beyond initially spending some more time with her granddaughter and generally relaxing while she ponders the future.
Come September, Mr. Jim Brown, currently of Kingsmill Primary School near Armagh, will succeed Mrs. Clinghan as principal of Fair Hill Primary School.