The Gentle Giant, by David

Isti and students

Isti with students gathered around him

Observing and shadowing a dynamic principal can be an inspiring event. Isti Garba, the director (aka principal) of Tsibiri Primary Boarding School, is an impressive man.  He inspired and amazed me, a veteran middle school principal from Charleston, South Carolina. Isti is cheerful, stern but compassionate, child centered, a great manager of resources, and well organized. Our team of Kara, Coleen, Alex, and myself spent one full day and two half days on the campus. It is obvious that under Isti’s guidance, a quality education is provided for each of the 487 students. This explains why the school has such a high passing rate for the national sixth grade exam and why parents want their children to attend this school.

In preparation for this trip Kara provided me with a research paper from UNICEF on “Quality Education”.  All of the components of a quality education that were referenced in this paper are evident at Tsibiri.  The components we observed and discussed with Isti include, but are not limited to: the health and nutrition of students; student attendance; quality teaching; a rich curriculum; and teacher continuing education.

Isti manages his resources effectively to make sure there is enough food to feed the boarding student three times per day. He monitors the village “snack ladies” who visit the campus at 10:00 am each morning to ensure that they have their health permits and the quality of the snacks meets his inspection. All teachers have first aid kits to manage minor injures which occur throughout the day on campus. Isti often steps in as the first responder with health issues. It as clear to me that Isti felt that the first step in a quality education is to have healthy children. Isti communicated to us a few humorous stories about managing student attendance and having to go find students who were not at school or who were homesick and would leave the campus. He keeps a well organized chalk board in his office with a daily “head count” of the number of boys and girls in each class, grade, and total school count. Our team visited all classrooms at Tsibiri. There is quality teaching in each room with daily lesson plans on the chalk board, extensive written lesson plan books, quality, progressive classroom teaching, and strong classroom management. Isti told me that he often visits classrooms and then sits down with the teacher to provide verbal and written feedback.  The teachers and supervisor often collaborate on designated workdays. In classrooms I saw conjugations of verbs in French, studying the parts of the heart, multiplication problems modeled on boards, and students working in groups.

Isti Garba is a tall gentleman who commands respect and is revered by his students and respected and admired by his staff. I have dubbed him “the gentle giant”.