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Outsider who has steered Alliance to glory

By | August 11th 2010

By Kenneth Kwama

Before Mr David Kariuki became principal of Alliance High School in mid 2008, it was an article of faith within the school’s community that for anyone to become head, he had to be an old boy of the school or former teacher.

The belief was that ‘other brains’ were simply not up to it. Kariuki – an outsider – who was among five candidates the Teachers Service Commission had listed for the job after former Principal Christopher Khaemba left to take over as dean of the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, exploded the myth.

The only things Kariuki, who was then principal of Meru Secondary School, could count on to win him the job were his academic track record and administration skills.

He got the job. Since then, he has been walking the difficult and dangerous path of striving to ensure the best possible education for his students.

National record

As a show of success, in last year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams, his candidates broke a national record.

With a mean score of 11.09 points Alliance beat Starehe Boys Centre, which was ranked position two nationally by more than one point.

"It was a phenomenal result," admits Kariuki.

"We hope to do better next year."

Doing better means a mean grade of A (plain), an arduous task, especially considering that the school always enrols more than 220 candidates for KCSE. However, Kariuki says the task is not impossible.

"I believe we can do it. His talent, hard work and dedication in the school changed the lives of countless students. He has mentored the students and shares in their belief that anything is possible in Alliance Boys," says a teacher at the school who requested not to be named.

Kariuki has been teaching for close to 26 years and his former students are to be found in the top echelons throughout the country.

Besides administration, Kariuki also teaches Biology. But it is not only scientific knowledge he imparts. He has also taught his students to believe in themselves and to strive for greatness in the face of adversity.

For example, he has formulated a regime where Form Four students sit three internal exams before they do their final papers. The internal exams are structured in a way that candidates sit for pre-mock trial exams, trials and post-trial exams. The papers are set and timed like national exams.

According to Kariuki: "It’s not easy for a student to score an A in internal exams. The only place you can score an A is in Form One and this is because the subject scope is not as wide. Our standards are high and an A starts from 90 per cent."

After the post-trials exams for Form Four students, each candidate is required to write down a confession that includes his targets in all examinable subjects. The confessions are kept at the principal’s office and he is the only one who can access them.

Kariuki gave the writer a peek at Brian Kamau’s confession written in September last year, a month to the national exams. Brian had stated that his desire would be to score plain As in all eight subjects. His lowest target was 87 per cent in Chemistry.

"I called him and asked him why he was targeting only 87 per cent in Chemistry while he could do better," laughs Kariuki.

"I knew he was capable of performing better. It shouldn’t surprise you that Brian and all the other students got exactly what they wrote in their confessions."

The ‘wish’ list is a tradition for every candidate at Alliance Boys.

One-on- one session

There is no way a candidate can escape the one-on-one session with the principal. In many ways, it gives Kariuki the opportunity to closely interact with his candidates, understand their weaknesses and offer appropriate remedy before the final date with examiners.

If need be, candidates are referred to guidance and counselling.

The regime has created a highly charged and competitive atmosphere that no one is ever sure of becoming number one.

"He has an exceptional talent. I know of a student whom he transformed from B to A material. He has inspired students to work their hardest and do their best. He gives people the tools they need to better themselves. He taught us to believe in ourselves, in our communities and that it is possible to realise our dreams," says a former student.

In many ways, one could say that Kariuki’s strength is ability to mingle and bond with people at any level. He connects well with people, a feeling that ran through the writer throughout the interview.

People who have interacted with him describe a warm, cheerful man, with a good sense of humour and an infectious laugh.

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