Saturday, May 06, 2017

School Of Thought

As Susan Varghese Cherian retires on May 9, as the Principal of the Rajagiri Public School, at Kochi, after a 18-year-stint, she reflects on her career

Photos: Susan Varghese Cherian by Albin Mathew; the Rajagiri Public School 

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a recent summer morning, Susan Varghese Cherian sits behind a large desk at her office in the Rajagiri Public School at Kalamaserry conferring with a teacher. She is wearing a bright maroon and green saree, a black necklace around her neck, and her hair is neatly pinned back in a bun. This is her 18th year on the job as principal of one of the leading schools in the state. But after an illustrious stint, she is retiring on May 9.

So, naturally, the 60-year-old is in a reflective mood. “Rajagiri has got a very capable set of teachers,” she says. “They can manage the institution even without a principal.”

But Susan is being modest. There is no doubt that she has commendable leadership skills. As a result, she has maintained her popularity among the staff, as well as the students.

For her recent birthday, the Class 12 students arranged a surprise get-together. They spent a day at Valsalyam - a home for abandoned babies. “It was a moving experience,” says Susan.

As for her method of leadership, Susan says, she tries to understand the teachers in a deep way. “It is important to find out what they are they good at, and then allow them to flourish,” she says.

Very early in her tenure, Susan told the teachers that whatever they wanted to say, they should say it in front of her and not behind her back. “Even if it is something which I do not like,” she says. Importantly, Susan always ensures that she never scolds a teacher in front of the others. “It is a big humiliation for an adult or even a child if you do that,” she says.

Her empathy must have come from her upbringing, in Delhi, as the daughter of a biology teacher, Sosamma while her father, Chacko, worked for a government oil company. Susan did her M.Sc from Delhi University as well as her B. Ed. Some of the places she worked included the National Museum of Natural History in Delhi, the St. Thomas school, at Patna, the Naval Public School in Kochi, where she became the Vice Principal and then as principal of the Rajagiri Public School, which has a student strength of 1700 boys and girls.

Having seen so many generations of students, Susan is keenly aware of how the students have changed. “They get a lot of opportunities these days and have become more confident,” she says. “Most are willing to express themselves, as compared to earlier generations. And there is a lot of critical thinking. They no longer accept passively whatever we say.”

Thanks to numerous co-curricular activities, students know their strengths by the time they are in Class 11 or 12. “They are willing to pursue what they feel they are good at, irrespective of what their parents or teachers tell them,” she says.

But there are negative attributes also. Many are addicted to their mobile phones and laptops. “They are whatsapping each other all the time, although this does not happen in school, because we have banned mobile phones,” says Susan.

Meanwhile, as her career comes to an end, Susan cannot help but remember the school director with whom she worked the longest: Fr. Austin Mulerikal. “Fr. Austin had a big impact on me,” says Susan. “He was a perfectionist. So we were always geared to do things in the best way possible. Secondly, he would always support us, emotionally and materially, on new projects. In lots of ways, he helped me to grow inwardly. And I thank him for that.”

Words of praise

As a person who had the unique privilege of working with Susan for twelve years, I have no hesitation to say that she made a very big contribution in making the institution what it is today. She had genuine concern for her staff. Her relationship with the students was really cordial but she could also be tough in matters of discipline. We could always notice nobility in her words, deeds and demeanour. She is a graceful person with an infectious smile.
Fr Austin Mulerikal CMI, Former Director

Susan Maam is a great mentor who always magnifies the strengths of others.
Parimal Paul, teacher

Susan Maam possesses a pleasant disposition, and reverberates a sense of positivity wherever she is!
Sherin Shaju, senior teacher

Susan ma'am has been Instrumental in the steady rise of Rajagiri public School ever since she took over as Principal. I appreciate her willingness and humility to ask for ideas when not in the know of starting a new venture.
Suma Dan, teacher 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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