When James Ngugi was transferred from Enkii Boys Secondary School in Loitoktok where he had been the founder principal, many whispered about the steep demotion.
"His" school, which he had grown to an enviable population of 337 and a mean score of 5.9 in the 2017 KCSE, had topped Oloitoktok, winning him the coveted 2017 Kajiado Principal of the Year award.
But Ngugi received a letter informing him of his transfer across seven counties to Meru during the teacher delocalisation drive last year. In Meru he would head the sleepy Kiirua Boys Secondary School in Buuri - a one-stream school with only 150 students.
“It was a steep climb down, especially after discovering that the school mean score veered at around 2.00 marks,” he said.
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Although Kiirua Boys is an old full boarding school established in 1970s, its performance had always been on the low and it had over the years failed to attract potential top performers.
“There appeared to have been so many boys sent to this school just to grow up. Even some parents never believed this school could be turned around," he said.
The new headteacher took over in May of 2018 and that year, the performance would remain low at 2.71 mean scores for the 42 boys. The top student had a C+ and 15 boys managed an aggregate of E, the lowest in KCSE.
“The most conspicuous thing that greeted you when you arrived at Kiirua Boys was the poor academic culture and the boys' low self-esteem. They also had incredibly poor communication skills and were shockingly undisciplined,” said Ngugi.
That was what he and his team set to fix and the reaction from the boys was expected. There were bouts of protests, which luckily never degenerated into riots or school closure.
This year, Kiirua has sent a warning that it could be rejuvenated. From the 2.71 mean last year, it has now posted 4.675. The highest student achieved a B. Six others have university entry grades.