Bill Schroder at home in Pretoria, reading from his book, A Headmaster's Story: My Life in Education.
Pretoria - “I did it my way” - that is what Bill Schroder believes his book, A Headmaster’s Story: My Life in Education, could have been titled. His memoir will be officially launched tomorrow at Pretoria Boys High, the school where Schroder spent 19 years as headmaster before his retirement at the end of 2009.

The book tracks Schroder’s 42 years in education as a teacher and headmaster at various schools, his philosophy of a holistic approach to education, namely academics, sport, culture and pastoral care; his inimitable way of dealing with challenges; and what he would do now to address the imbalance which persists in schools 25 years after democracy - suggestions our Minister of education and Education MEC would do well to read.

After an introduction to his life in a chapter titled, from barefoot boy to head boy, he describes how he ended up teaching (not because he had a calling for the profession, but because of financial need).

He writes about his experience in a preparatory school and his move to teaching in high school, co-ed and all boys’ schools, and how he came to realise his destiny: to become the headmaster of the prestigious Pretoria Boys High, despite being an “outsider”.

Among the tasks Schroder undertook at Boys High, was to interview boys for places in the hostel, deal with unsavoury initiation practices, and ensure the boss-skiv system (where a young boy has an older mentor) was not open to abuse.

His time at Boys High coincided with political change in the country, including the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela a month after he started, in February 1990. Boys High had already held a referendum on open admissions, but had been overruled by the education authorities at the time. Before Schroder could join a delegation to appeal, schools were offered the option of following a Model A (retaining “separate development”) or Model B system (deciding on admission policy) and, finally, Model C, the option Boys High chose because of the freedom it allowed.

Schroder writes of the school’s transformation journey, and how he realised the need to “be ahead of change”, rather than “let the change, change us”, and his determination to maintain that which Boys High represented and made it special.

Because of the size of the campus, the school voluntarily increased in size and, over the next few years grew by 100 boys a year and introduced a pre-Form 1 group, taking in boys from disadvantaged backgrounds, who followed a specially designed programme with specialists before they joined the school in Form 1 (Grade 8) the following year.

Getting ahead of other schools proved to be a master stroke, and Boys High received many accolades, but Schroder says it would not have been possible without the calibre of people he was blessed to have as Old Boys, on the governing body, on the staff, and the support of his family, especially his wife, Cherry.

“Of course we made mistakes, and some of our initiatives were rather naive,” he recalls, but others such as the academic-support programmes and outreach to township schools garnered much praise from the authorities.

Schroder deals with discipline, smoking - for which he devised an ingenious solution - bunking and other misdemeanours; he reminisces about sports tours, matric dances and the associations Boys High had with schools such as Pretoria High School for Girls, Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool and Meisieskool, with a number of amusing anecdotes.

He said when it came to dealing with teenage boys, his advantage was his having been a boarder himself. Despite having an overdose of testosterone and inevitably testing boundaries, he found teenage boys to be honest, sincere, fun and actually conservative at heart. They enjoyed routine, tradition and a sense of belonging, he said.

Now in retirement, Schroder is putting his leadership style and wealth of experience to good use in mentoring at Memezelo Secondary School in Soshanguve.

Pretoria News