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Retiring headteacher honoured for his years of service

A retiring headteacher who has been honoured for his work with children with additional support needs has said the greatest life skill you can give to young people ‘is Faith in Christ.’ — By RYAN MCDOUGALL

Gerry McDonald was speaking after being awarded an archdiocesan medal by Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, in recognition of his many years of service in Catholic education.

Mr McDonald is retiring at the end of term from his post as the headteacher of Cardinal Winning Secondary School, one of only three Scottish Catholic schools for young people with additional support needs.

The medal was presented to Mr McDonald at an Archdiocesan Mass for children with additional support needs.

“I was really quite humbled by it,” said Mr McDonald, who was inspired to specialise in teaching pupils with additional support needs by his two brothers, who were removed from school as children and deemed ‘uneducable’ by teachers due to their learning difficulties.

“It was a total surprise,” he said about receiving the honour. “It was awarded to recognise my contribution to Catholic education. I am very humbled, and proud as well.

“I dare say there’d be no other honour that would give me more satisfaction than being able to say that I made a contribution to Catholic education.”

Mr McDonald’s first teaching job was at Cardinal Newman High School in Bellshill. By his mid 20s, he knew his calling was to teach pupils who require additional support.

He briefly studied for the priesthood in Drygrange, but his heart was set on teaching, and he went on to ‘enjoy every day’ of his career.

In regard to leaving the school, Mr McDonald said: “There’s a sparkle in one eye for retirement, but a tear in the other for leaving Cardinal Winning Secondary. The greatest life skill I can give to a young person is Faith in Christ.”

Some of the highlights of his career include St Pope John Paul II’s visit to Scotland, when he took four busloads of pupils from a school in which he used to teach up to Murrayfield Stadium. More recently he visited Rome with a group of staff and pupils, where they had the opportunity to stand just metres away from Pope Francis.

Reminiscing on St Pope John Paul II’s speech to young people in 1982 at Murrayfield, Mr McDonald said, quoting St John Paul the Great: “‘You are the pride and promise of Scotland.’ Those words will stick in my mind. That’s what I’ve tried to create in the school. I believe the young people are indeed the pride and promise of Scotland.”

The 110 pupils at Cardinal Winning Secondary, as well as the staff, will all miss Mr McDonald dearly, one of the school’s receptionists said.

Reflecting on his pupils, and what the school stands for, he said: “I like to think our school is a pro-life school, and I like to think that our children celebrate life, because there are always activities which are fun, there are always activities where they can celebrate.”

He explained that, in his opinion, if pupils are unhappy at school, they’ll have a negative learning experience overall.

He said that when the school opened seven years ago, they chose to name it after Cardinal Winning due to his passion for youngsters with additional support needs, and his willingness to see them learn and prosper.

“I hope and believe that he [Cardinal Winning] would be very happy with what we’ve done in the school,” he added.

The school is set to bid farewell to their headteacher and celebrate the end of term this week. To mark the occasion, they are hosting a barbeque at the school, to which former and current pupils are all invited.

Mr McDonald laughed about not knowing what to do in his retirement, as he doesn’t play golf or go fishing, but said his wife has a few trips for them in mind.

“Everything we have done in our own school has been making the difference that will see these kids happy and independent.

“I’ve had a lovely career, and enjoyed every minute of it, but it’s time to hand the job over,” he said.

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