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Michael Omisore

CNB News – Celebrating outgoing Vetland Principal, Mrs. A.E. Taiwo, as she drops the pen

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It was early 2019. I visited Vetland Grammar School, Agege, Lagos, in my pursuit of giving today’s students great learning experiences (so they can build the future). It was more of a cold visit with no prior assignment or encounter with any staff of the school. In such a situation, you really don’t know what to expect – acceptance, soft rejection or outright shun.

Walking into the Principal’s office, I was welcomed by this iconic figure of warmth and excellence. Her name I quickly grasped as Abiola Elizabeth Taiwo from one of the award plaques that her office was decorated with. ‘Oh, she has done well for herself winning some awards’, I thought, hoping to have a fruitful discussion on the initiatives I was about to share with this achiever in education.

I hadn’t talked for more than five minutes before her interest was caught by the fact that one of her students had indirectly benefitted from a training I facilitated. A year before, I was invited by the Lagos State Ministry of Education to have a train-the-trainer seminar for selected English Language teachers across the state as they prepared their students for that year’s (2018) Essay Writing Competition held by the state. At the grand finale of the programme, where I was duly acknowledged for my ‘little’ input in preparing the students for the contest, it was a student of Vetland that won the ‘Best Essay’ in the Junior Secondary School Category, an award that Mrs. Taiwo cherished like she did other ones that have come to her and the school.

That talking point further opened up our discussion as she proudly briefed me not only about that award-winning boy, but also the different milestones and achievements that have come the way of the school since she became the Principal in 2018. Vetland Grammar School is a public school under Education District 1 in Lagos State. And for once, maybe since the general collapse of public schools in the country in the early 90s, we are seeing in public schools like Vetland a formidable competition even to the high-profile private schools with rather exhorbitant school fees. I later learnt that a lot of students in Vetland actually came from private primary schools as the school’s good standard attract even upwardly mobile parents who.would rather not put their children in public school before now.

So, what makes the Vetland story so remarkable in the last few years? Is it leadership? Yes, and in many ways. A.E. Taiwo took over as the Principal (the Chief Manager) of the school and hit the ground running with some quick wins — sacrificial on her part. She rebuilt the assembly podium for the school with her own money, an amount that must have been many folds her salary.. (She had done exactly the same thing at one of her former schools, Oba Moruf Ojoola Junior High School). On that new podium at Vetland, Taiwo would make several announcements that would move the school forward, and consequently celebrate some enviable feats as a result. By sacrificially rebuilding the school podium, she seemed to have set the stage for Vetland’s rise to fame and excellence among public schools in Lagos and Nigeria. .

Mrs. Taiwo would also facilitate the repainting of all the classroom blocks in the school, not from her purse but through a partnership. A self-centred school principal seeking personal gratification would have missed the opportunity by miles when it showed up, but not Taiwo. Her dream for a facelift and good ambience for the school did not end there. She also saw to the rescusitation of the geographical garden of the school, and general keeping of the school compound. She didn’t wait for her employer (the government) to achieve all that. Remarkable to say the least!

A.E. Taiwo’s drive for the development of the learning space she was overseeing was however little compared to her investment in the individuals in that space, teachers and students alike. And this is where an excellence minded leader like Taiwo really begins to shine. From a humble teaching background, a career journey that started 35 years ago as an English Language and Literature teacher in Ogbogbo Baptist Grammar School, Ijebu Ode, Taiwo must have had firsthand experiences regarding the challenges faced by the average teacher in pursuing a career path in the profession. Having been able to chart a career path in teaching and ride unto fulfilment, Taiwo couldn’t but help younger teachers under her learn the ropes, offering necessary assistance for career growth. ‘She is a high-flyer that wants teachers under her to be high-flyers as well. She has helped to bring the best out of many teachers in the school. Her excellent qualities have rubbed off on us, and Vetland will continue to be great for many years to come because of her legacy, said Mr. Adegbenro, one of the teachers at Vetland.

As a rare all-round enabler, Mrs. Taiwo was always desirous of her students achieving as well. And they did pretty well under her. Apart from individual honours that came the way of some outstanding students competing in contests organised by the district or state, the general academic performance at Vetland have risen appreciably in recent years to a level where many more students are competing for good grades and prizes as no one wants to be left behind. And no student was left behind in the 2019 WAEC Examination as Vetland recorded 100 percent pass among the final year students of the school that wrote the exam, a remarkable feat that was the icing on the cake for Taiwo to be adjudged the Most Dedicated and Reliable Principal in Lagos State in 2019, the Best Principal in Lagos State in 2020, and Africa’s Most Outstanding Principal (2020) by Africa Brands Review, among other awards that have dogged her path since 2013 (long before she came to Vetland) and with an international award from Commonwealth being awaited It is almost safe to conclude that, in the last couple of years, no other Nigerian school principal has manned his or her post better — and doggedly created value and results — than A.E. Taiwo. Remarkable once again!

Taiwo’s push for academic excellence among students was balanced by her genuine care for their welfare and all-round growth, with the provision of free uniforms for indigent students through a pet project called Clothe-a-Child, initiating school football clubs with a standby coach, and encouraging community service through which the school can give back to the society.

Definitely, A.E. Taiwo is a motivator, but what was motivating her all through? What made her such a go-getter? The determination to succeed must have been built right from her own secondary school days at Saint Anne’s School. Molete, Ibadan. ‘Those days — late seventies and early eighties — in Saint Anne’s, you had daughters of governors, commissioners and other influential people in your class. ‘Young girls like me from humble homes definitely had something to prove — that we could do well and better academically than children who were more privileged than us in.means and resources,’ Taiwo recalled. (A reason she so much challenged her public school students to do better than students in private schools). That desire and ability to excel even where and when one is seemingly disadvantaged was formed in her right from then, and she took it alongside her jovial bubblng spirit to every school she worked as a teacher or administrator, from Ijebu Ode’s Ogbogbo Grammar School to Lagos Agege’s St Joseph, Iloro College, Abibat Mogaji Millennium Senior Secondary School, Government Senior College, Oke Odo Junior Grammar School, Oba Moruf Ojoola Junior High School, Ijaiye Ojokoro Junior Grammar School and finally Vetland Senior Grammar School, giving a total 35 years to teaching, exemplary leadership and rare positive influence over students and fellow staff.

The statutory 35 years of civil service is finally over, and Taiwo had to drop the pen officially, and she chose January 12, 2021, her 56th birth anniversary, to do just that. At the retirement mini event that Tuesday afternoon, many accolades came her way from prominent individuals in education as she signed the civil service register for the last time, and got inducted into the Association of Retired Principals of Secondary Schools of Nigeria, Lagos State chapter.

What is next for A.E. Taiwo? Considering her immense positive contribution to educarion, that is not a question for her alone. And the answer is long required. What do we do to education icons who have retired but not tired, who have served their official term but still have a lot to offer? Do we just give them a ceremonial plaque for their efforts and wave bye to them? No! We need to keep engaging them in order to milk their rich experiences, creating platforms and opportunities for younger teachers to learn from them through mentorship and training. We need to support any relevant initiative they have that can still make positive impact in the education space. And when and where competence and experience meet opportunity and availability, a project or assignment in the specific area of competence can be handed to such individuals in the bid to reform the education sector. At 56 Taiwo is retired, but she doesn’t seem to be tired yet.

What else could A.E. Taiwo’s successful run all through her career be attributed to? I guess support from those she has had to submissively serve — her husband, her bosses, and her God. Her husband, Dr. Adekunle Taiwo, is ever happy to have such a hard-working and passionate achiever as wife, but what should not be overlooked or taken for granted is his own support and contribution in making his wife what she is today. As a principal of different schools in the last seven years before her retirement, A E.Taiwo had to deal directly per time with senior directors in the Lagos State Ministry of Education, particularly the Tutor General/Permanent Secretary (TG/PS) of Education District 1. She made herself available to serve both the former District 1 TG/PS, Dr. Mrs. Yinka Ayandele (now in District 3), and the current TG/PS, Mrs. Titilayo Solarin.’ I was privileged to have wonderful bosses’,Taiwo said of both the TG/PS mentioned, ‘they made it easy for me to serve them,’ she concluded.

A.E.Taiwo’s ultimate inspiration and support throughout her outstanding teaching career might have come from none other than God, according to her. ‘I attribute my success to God, plain and simple.’ Taiwo said. That sounds like a song that says, ‘ ‘Every good thing I have done, everything that I’ve become, every thing that’s turned out right, is because You (God) are in my life.’ if it is beyond effort and labour, or human will and wisdom, then it makes sense to give glory to the One that showers one with grace.

Taiwo is currently working to author two books (a project that had made me to revisit Vetland a couple more times as an editor). The first book with a proposed title My Vetland Story is to showcase the transformation that took place in Vetland while she was the principal, which won her state and national awards. The second proposed book, not yet titled because Taiwo is still lost for words, is to highlight how God really helped her all through the journey of life up to this time. ‘People think I am that clever. They think I am all that Well, I have a story to tell, and the summary of the story is that I have been helped by God. He is the Big Champion that has made me a ‘small champion’.

Taiwo’s success story is a story of faith. Against odds, she has distinguished herself as an educator. It is also a story of dedication and selflessness. She has this to say to young teachers of today: ‘Love your job, be dedicated and loyal. Treat your job like a personal establishment. Be ready to put in your resources for the upliftment of your job.’ Above all, take all situations to God. Love God and love all men as yourself. Make that your slogan.’

As a school principal, .A E. Taiwo really followed the golden rule slogan of ‘do to others what you want them to do to you’ She would encourage the students, motivate the teachers, and collaborate with parents. Everyone was given their due place and respect, which is why everyone seemed to respect her in return. No reason to be in her black book because she is strict but yet kind, she is driven but also flexible, and she is passionate and at the same time compassionate. She is someone you would call a workaholic, yet she initiated a ‘playaway’ method for Vetland teachers to wind down so that she could connect with them better in order to commit more into their hands. She is an administrator par excellence, said Mr. Kolawole, another teacher at Vetland. ‘Her leadership style affords team work. She is not an emperor — not too high at all to relate with –, she is approachable by all teachers and even students.’

Now that A.E. Taiwo has retired, it is istrongly hoped that her qualities and results will be emulated by current teachers and principals alike in Lagos Education District 1, Lagos State in general, and Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Most definitely, we need many more ‘of Abiola ElizabethTaiwo in our education system. And we can have, now that a good precedent has been laid down. In a field that so many today are struggling to find all of fulfilment, prosperity and sheer success — because of the challenges of our times and in our clime — the former Vetland Principal has blazed a trail with her selfless service, leaving a path for all teachers and education administrators to follow.

– MD Omisore
Education Writer and Consultant, and Author, Smart and Brilliant Book Series for Students

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