‘At this point in time I’m excited’

AT 17 years, Jim Cochrane’s tenure as principal of Dromore Central Primary School hasn’t quite come of age, so to speak, and, as it turns out, he won’t be getting a key to the front door after all.

That’s to say, the man who dedicated himself with much enthusiasm to the, for so long seemingly fruitless, campaign to replace the ageing, ailing and overcrowded Dromore Central Primary School, will not now make the move to the finally, all but fully approved new building upon its completion.

With an end, if still some way off, nevertheless in sight, Mr. Cochrane has seen fit to announce his imminent retirement and, if it may seem unexpected to some, it is, according to the man himself, entirely in line with long established plans.

“I always wanted to retire as close to 60 as I could make it,” he said, “and, with my wife now looking after our grandchildren, I just felt the time was right.”

Appointed principal around April or May of 1996, Jim Cochrane’s very first Board of Governors meeting a month or so later dealt with the subject of an economic appraisal for a new school, a goal now tantalisingly close to being achieved but nonetheless still pending almost two decades later.

It is with some regret, but a mostly pragmatic approach, that Jim now views the prospect of an all-new Dromore Central forging ahead in his absence.

“You’ve got to remember the new school is still a minimum of two years away,” he said. “That at least means my successor will have two years of planning time ahead of the move.

“It is a great source of regret to me that it didn’t come to fruition in 2003, but a school is not about buildings; it’s about the people. This school is a harmonious place to work; we have great relationships, between staff and pupils and parents and governors.”

Jim admits to a sense of satisfaction at least that the new building is on the cards, bearing in mind the “rapid” growth in the school population during his 17 years as principal. “The school had 500 pupils in 1996 and now it has 700,” he said. “There were 18 classes in the school when I became principal and now there are 28.”

Born and bred in Dromore, Jim Cochrane has in fact spent 24 years at Dromore Central; it was, of course, the primary school he attended as a boy. He later attended Friends School, Lisburn and Stranmillis University College before embarking on a teaching career that took in Belvoir Park Primary School, Dunmurry Primary School, Hillsborough Primary School, where he was vice-principal, Lisburn’s Knockmore Primary School, as principal, and Iveagh Primary School, Rathfriland, again as principal, before his return to take up the helm at Dromore Central.

It was at Friends that he came to the conclusion he wanted to teach.

“I have always enjoyed the company of children and I still enjoy the company of children,” he said. “That’s still the most pleasurable aspect of my job, seeing the children grow and mature and go from strength to strength; that has been the privilege of working in my own community.”

Of changes in the face of education there have been many over the the course of Jim’s career.

“The main changes have been the curricular changes,” he said. “The volume of change and the pace of change have been absolutely unbelievable; some have been extremely worthwhile and a lot have not.”

What Jim would miss most in retirement, he said, was the daily interaction with people, which was fundamentally what his job had always been. Almost 100 per cent of parents, he said, had been totally supportive of all the school had been doing.

“That means so much to me,” he said, “and I have appreciated their support, as I have appreciated the support of the Board of Governors.”

There had been many sad times too during his time at Dromore Central, he said, but he would miss his interaction with the staff, who were both colleagues and friends.

Jim chose to announce his retirement in timely fashion – he will bow out at the end of August this year – to allow ample time for the appointment of a successor, but he was clear that he was in no way disenchanted with the job he would be leaving behind.

“I still absolutely love the vast majority of my job,” he said. “It has been an honour and a privilege to have been in his position for the last 17 years. To be the principal of your hometown school, the school you attended, is nothing short of wonderful.” And for anyone considering a career in teaching, Jim had this to say. “It is a tremendously fulfilling occupation; I have three daughters and two are teachers.

“There are many challenges, but the fulfilment you get out of it . . . the rewards, in my opinion, far outweigh any downside.”

With a final thought for the future, he said, “At this point in time I’m excited. I can look back, but I’m not a great one for looking back; I’d rather look forward.

“I’m only a few hundred yards away from the school; I don’t think this will be my last contact with it.”