Mary was appointed principal of Millennium Integrated Primary School in 2000, coming from Portavogie Primary school on the Ards Peninsula. As well as being exciting times, these were also challenging times for the Steering Committee as delay after delay meant that Millennium ended up opening its doors to the first 10 children in that September in an abandoned Health Trust building in Breda Park, Carryduff.
The race was on to make the school as welcoming and inviting as possible for the new arrivals – so the summer was spent getting the building ready. This was also the beginning of her lasting friendship with her assistant Marie as the both of them spent countless hours preparing the building. This arrangement lasted two years until, in September 2002, the school moved to its present site on the Saintfield Road. Even then, the move was not without its controversy as this page from the BBC News website can testify > http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/2253262.stm
However, regardless of the difficulties and barriers that were put in place, the school opened and began welcoming the new families through the doors. The classes continued in mobiles while the main school was built but, eventually, the children and staff moved into the new accommodation.
Mary continued to grow the school with an enthusiasm, and drive, that ensured a lasting legacy was being created. The ethos of integration runs through the veins of Millennium and it has been developed from Mary’s leadership down through the enthusiastic embracing of the ethos by the staff and families. This welcoming ethos and core has meant that many children with additional needs have had a successful primary school journey when, previously, this may not have happened. This devotion to working to ensure the best for the all children has been recognised by many people, bodies and authorities far beyond the school gates.
Throughout her time as principal, Mary has been a loud voice in calling for equality and fairness for schools in the integrated sector. She has ensured that the goals, ideals and ambitions of all of the families involved in the sector have been heard in places such as London, Boston and Jerusalem. This unique drive has ensured that Millennium has been at the forefront of the supporting the movement through NICIE and the IEF.
She has always been willing to put the needs of the children first and this has been seen in the warm relationships that have been developed between her and the many families that have come through Millennium’s doors. Many people driving past the school in the late evenings will have seen the lights on in the office as another meeting is taking place or a form has had to be completed. Again, his commitment to the hours needed for Millennium to succeed should not be underrated.
It’s not just Millennium that is losing a principal. The integrated movement in Northern Ireland is losing one of its most vocal champions (albeit temporarily while she enjoys a well deserved extended holiday in France) who has been at the forefront of delivering the bold vision of Integrated Education in Northern Ireland. While we wish Mary a long and relaxing retirement and hope that she enjoys the time with her husband and family – we also hope that we will see Mary coming back into the fold to offer her support and guidance to the new generation of families, schools, teachers, principals and governors.
Jill’s role in Oakgrove has spanned the decades, having serving for eleven years as Principal and before that as Vice Principal for nine years. Jill has been part of the school experience for every student who has passed through post-primary integrated education in the city.
After training as a teacher in Birmingham Anstey college of PE, Jill moved to Greece to teach from 1981 – 1983; while living there, she also travelled the Greek islands.
Jill came naturally to a life in integrated education, having cut her educational teeth in the diverse school experiences of several London schools. These included the Jewish Free School, Camden School, and latterly Clapton Technology College, where she served from in the years1986 – 1995 as Head of Year and for the last two as Senior Teacher.
Making a success of school and building relationships with people have been central to Jill’s professional life. Under her leadership, Oakgrove Integrated College has continued to grow and flourish, and has notched up significant achievements locally, nationally and internationally.
Beyond work, her life’s passions are her daughter Ruby, aged 22, and a love of sport. A lifelong Spurs supporter, Jill is also an aspiring golfer and an enthusiastic gardener.
For the future, after years of planning her own and others’ success, Jill hopes to go with the flow and to enjoy the years ahead. Jill’s plan is to have no plan.
Brenda McMullen was born in Kilkeel and came to Belfast to study as a teacher in Stranmillis College in 1977. She enjoyed engaging in Drama lessons there and this love of Drama has continued for the whole of her career.
After a brief period of working in the family firm Ms McMullen decided to follow her first love and got a job in laurel Hill High School in Lisburn. She then took up a teaching post in Carrs Glen Primary School. Ms McMullen was then seconded to the board as a Maths Advisor and she thoroughly enjoyed visiting different schools and supporting their work.
In 1993 Ms McMullen became Vice Principal of Finaghy Primary school and during this time she took the opportunity to engage in a teacher exchange programme to Darwin, Australia. Ms McMullen then became Principal of Cliftonville Integrated Primary School seventeen years ago. At this stage, the school was not integrated. Ms McMullen and the Board of Governors took the bold step to lead the school to transformation and offer integrated education as an option for families in the area. The school gained its integrated status in 2008 and it has gone from strength to strength. There was obviously a real desire for this type of education in North Belfast. Under Ms McMullen’s leadership the school population has doubled in size over the past nine years.
Ms McMullen has thoroughly enjoyed her time working with the children and parents in North Belfast. She is delighted by the progress of the school over the years and is pleased to be passing on a happy, thriving school to the next Principal.
Ms McMullen will retire at the end of this academic year. She will be sorely missed by the pupils, parents and staff of Cliftonville Integrated Primary School. We all value her hard work and dedication to the job. She will always be remembered as a trailblazer and a leader of courage, strength and vision.