Gene McCaffrey

Retiring Principal watched education system progress

Wednesday June 26, 1991

Gene McCaffrey has witnessed the education system profess from the "middle ages to the 21st Century" in 35 yeras of teaching for the Lambton County Board of Education.

"There has been a total revolution of the education system since I became a teacher," Mr. McCaffrey said at his retirement reception. "I remembre my Grade 8 teacher started teaching in 1888 and it (teaching) was much the same in the 1950s when I started as it was in the first part of the century." "Now, the information system has hit us. The curriculum has changed now to where it is child centered and the teachers are better trained and better equipped to do their job. Even the role of the principal has changed," he added.

"Prinicpals are truly managers, administrators. They are still teachers but they are far more removed from the classroom than ever before."

Mr. McCaffrey, 57, retired Monday as principal of St. Clair Secondary School, a position he held since 1985.

A graduate of St. Patrick's High School, Mr. McCaffrey began his teaching career at Central Collegiate in 1956 after graduating from the University of Western Ontario. Looking back on his career which includes 22 years as principal in the public school system, Mr. McCaffrey says he has many memories that will remain with him forever.

"Teaching is the greatest profession there is. In no other job can you have the relationships that you have in teaching. Almost every student has their memories of their favorite teacher," he says. "I had the opportunity of being principal when they opened Alexander Mackenzie school and principal when they closed Central Collegiate, " he recalled.

"It was exciting being part of opening Alexander Mackenzie Secondary School," he says. "It introduced a whole new concept in secondary education. It replaced the occupational programs in three schools (SCITS, St. Clair and Northern) and brought them together under one roof." He said the new school was a "state of the art facility" and teachers specializing in occupational training were used to introduce what was considered an "experimental curriculum".

Mr.McCaffrey said Alexander Mackenzie was one of the first schools in Ontario to award students a graduate dipolma in basic level occupational programs.

The closing of Central Collegiate was an emotional experience for Mr. McCaffrey.

Having begun his career at the school and serving as its vice principal in 1967, Mr. McCaffrey recalls "none of us liked to see it close, but we appreciated the economic reality and the pressures of funding education in the province."

"You just hate to see something that's been a tradition in the neighborhood, in the community terminated. There had been other schools closed in the city and I think we all experienced the same emotions." "Even the board (of education) officials who saw it as an essential necessity hated to see it close," he added.

Mr. McCaffrey says his retirement plans include going back to school to continue his studies, travelling, volunteer work in the community and with local sports groups."

"I just plan to keep involved and keep myself busy," he said.

Gene McCaffrey makes a quick introduction of the St. Clair Secondary School band.