Alliance and other schools need principals driven to do the best

Tuesday March 14 2017

Sapit prays for Alliance High School students

Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit prays for Alliance High School students on March 5, 2017 during the Founders Day service at institution. The Old Boys Association and board of management should be involved in choosing the next principal. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The people involved in picking the next principal of Alliance High School should be deliberate and conscientious in identifying the best candidate for the job.

Only an effective manager will help restore the standing of the school, and maintain its dynamic traditions cherished over the years.

Alliance has been in the news with reports of bullying, for which six students were taken to court and the principal took an early retirement.

Following these incidents, some have come to believe that the school may have had practices that were hidden from the public.

I must say this not true. When I first read Jim Collins’s book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, in my mind, the institution that fitted this three-word description was Alliance High School.

Given its consistency, the quality of students and the impact of their service in Kenya and Africa for more than 80 years, it is not difficult to see that Alliance was ‘built to last’.

The founders established the school on visionary tenets summarised in its motto, ‘Strong to Serve’ and the School Prayer.

Collins and his co-author listed 18 companies they identified as ‘visionary’.

They were premier institutions founded before 1950.

Alliance is one such institution, and incidental happenings need not define the school and its history.

The view that what happened at Alliance is a reflection of society, though in some way true, need not apply to schools founded on strong principles.


Indeed, the work of such schools should be influencing society and not society influencing such schools. But it starts with the appointment of the principal.

In picking the next head, ideas in another Collins book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't, might help.

It cites seven characteristics of firms that went from “good to great”.

They include Level 5 leadership - a leader with values of humility but driven to do what is best for the company (read school). Alliance has solid values that define its rich culture.

The Old Boys Association and board of management should be involved in choosing the next principal.

The Ministry of Education and Teachers Service Commission should involve them.

The old boys’ executive committee is chaired by Mr Mugo Kibati. The continuity of school values is guaranteed in the old boys.

At every school gathering or old boys’ events, reciting the school prayer preceded everything else and was done with verve and passion.

The boys took pride in displaying the values in the school prayer summarised in the school motto, “Strong to Serve".

Carey Francis (principal from 1940 to 1962) composed it in 1948, and it captures what Alliance is all about: “Have in thy keeping all Lord, our God, this school; that its work may be thorough and its life joyful; that from it may go out, strong in body, mind and character, men who, in your name and with thy power will serve their fellows faithfully."

For 85 years, Alliance set an example of service and has never had a tradition of bullying, but one of inculcating in the new students strong values of discipline, hard work and service.

Form Two “guardians” teach their younger brothers the routine.

The only activity that went close to some discomfort was the 8km cross country practice. But older boys enjoyed it.


For many years, the arrival of Form Ones coincided with the month-long cross country practice.

While they were expected to join on the first day, this was later changed to allow a one-week period before taking on the Carey Francis tradition.

Training Form Ones would be under the close eye of prefects, staff and the principal.

When I was the principal, Form One students had direct access to me and any form of bullying would be reported and dealt with.

Before then Education minister Mutula Kilonzo abolished caning in schools in 2002 through an Act of Parliament, I had banned the practice a year before.

And the cane was used by the principal and the deputy only. We started open class and school meetings where the students would raise their concerns, and the principal would respond.

There were designated places for the students to drop written concerns/complaints, and the principal would act.

Mr Khaemba is a founder member of Nova Academies and former Alliance High School principal. [email protected]