21 May 2022

Young Derry school principal enjoying challenging role as 'good things come in threes'

Suzanne McCafferty's third school as head teacher - and still only 36!

Young Derry school principal enjoying challenging role as 'good things come in threes'

Suzanne McCafferty, head teacher at Good Shepherd Primary School in the Waterside area of the city, is in her third principalship – at the age of 36. (Photos: Jim McCafferty Photography)

The phrase 'good things come in threes' can certainly be applied to a young Derry principal.

Suzanne McCafferty, head teacher at Good Shepherd Primary School in the Waterside area of the city, is in her third principalship – at the age of 36.

Married to JP, the mother of two young children, Oliver and Hannah, lives in the countryside beside her parents home just outside of the city.

She said: “I hold many titles which include mother and wife, but the one which I will be focusing on is my role as principal of Good Shepherd Primary and Nursery School, all which I am very proud of.“

Suzanne started teaching in 2007.

She recalled: “I had left my CV around schools in the Waterside and Mr Brendan Bradley, principal of Scared Heart Primary School in the Waterside, rang me that day and offered me a temporary position teaching Primary 2.

“I had never met Mr Bradley before, but he was to become one of the biggest influences within my career.”

Good Shepherd PS Principal Suzanne McCafferty in conversation with Brendan Doherty, SENCO teacher.

Suzanne taught at Sacred Heart for a couple of years and applied for a permanent position but was unsuccessful at that time.

She added: “On reflection, it was one of the best things to happen to me. It gave me the opportunity to teach in Ardnashee Special School, then named Foyleview.

“There, I taught in a variety of classes throughout the school and learned a lot, not just about teaching, but about life, kindness, care and compassion. It was an extremely challenging role and I found it difficult but a very worthwhile position. Resilience is something which we must equip our children with for the future.”

After a year, Suzanne returned to Sacred Heart, having secured a permanent position in 2010, being appointed SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator).

Having graduated in 2007, Suzanne had returned to university in 2009, part-time, to study for a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership and Management with Special Educational Needs Assessment.

Mrs Suzann McCafferty, Principal, Good Shepherd Primary School, pictured on a visit to Mrs Colleen McKinney’s P1 class.

Suzanne said: “This was very worthwhile and broadened my understanding of leading and managing a school and the influence of transformational and distributed leadership styles.

“In 2014, I completed my professional headship qualification (PQHNI). Mr Bradley was very supportive and always encouraged me to pursue these additional qualifications.”

Suzanne took up her first principal’s post in 2017 in St. Peter’s and St. Paul's Primary School in Foreglen.

She said: “I was just 31-years-old. It certainly raised a few eyebrows. I believed in myself, and that I would strive to do my best for the children and families in my care. I relished the challenge and to lead a Catholic school is an honour and a privilege.”

Suzanne then took up my second principal’s post in St. Finlough’s Primary School, Glack.

Members of the Student Council at Good Shepherd PS pictured with Principal, Mrs. Suzann McCafferty this week. Front from left are Roise Gallagher, Ronan Williams and Oran Crossan. Back from left, Lila Crossan, Penny Evans and Dylan Harkin. (Photos: Jim McCafferty Photography)

She added: “This was a larger school giving me a greater breadth of challenge and experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as principal in St. Finlough’s Primary School and, in particular, the outstanding staff and community in Glack. Being a teaching principal is an extremely demanding, but rewarding role.”

The opportunity then came along to apply for the principal’s post in Good Shepherd Primary and Nursery School, and she was appointed in 2020.

She added: “I am absolutely delighted to be leading this school. I feel so at home here in the Waterside Parish, where I taught for years previously.

“I have been in the post now over a year and must commend the talented and nurturing staff here. I must remark on the friendly and happy children and the supportive school community which exists.

“Good Shepherd Primary and Nursery School seeks to create a happy, caring, stimulating and secure environment for each child to grow.

“Our vision is to ensure that each and every child reaches their full  potential; intellectually, spiritually, morally, socially and physically. We are a rights respecting school and this is central to all that we do.  Child centred provision is paramount.

“Our Mission Statement is  'Learn, Believe, Respect, Achieve.'

Mrs. McCafferty pictured with her daughter 4 years-old Hannah who is a nursery pupil at Good Shepherd PS.

Suzanne attended Stranmillis University College, Belfast and achieved a B.Ed (Hons), specialising in both Art and Music.

She added: “I am a creative person and enjoy painting, textiles as well as playing the harp. My music has provided many opportunities for me to perform at so many special events and meet the most amazing people.

"I would like to thank my parents who gave me this opportunity and would encourage all our young people out there to pursue a hobby; do something which makes you happy, and meet as many people as you can to grow your circle of friends.

“I always had an interest in leadership. I have been very fortunate in my life to have seen leadership in various aspects of everyday life. Being a farmer’s daughter, and being involved in the running of a busy family farm and, in particular, having to multi-task, prioritise and manage a budget was experience given to me from an early age.

"That, coupled with a wonderful learning experiences as a child within the education system in Derry, gave me the motivation and passion for my career to date.”

Suzanne added: “I entered into the role of principal during continuous industrial action and then a global pandemic. This has certainly been a challenge to what I initially thought principalship would look like. However, with the wonderful support from my team around me, the CCMS and my local principal cluster group, we would be able to problem solve together.

“The message which I would like to share is that of the importance of friendship, for life-long learning and to always strive for happiness. Don’t let others tell you that your goals are unachievable. My mother always says that 'nothing is impossible to a willing heart.'

Mrs Suzanne McCafferty, Principal, Good Shepherd Primary School. 

“As a woman, do not feel that having a position of responsibility means that you cannot have a family. With plenty of motivation, support and encouragement, anything is achievable.

“I believe that having young children of my own within the primary education system has given me an invaluable insight into the expectations of our school community and ultimately the happiness of our children.”

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