The outgoing principal of Downshire has ended her 35-year career at the school on a high note as she retired this summer.
Jacqueline Stewart took up a teaching post at the Carrick secondary in 1983, and was appointed headmistress in 2006.
Her retirement comes as Downshire merged with Carrick College to become Carrickfergus Academy this month.
Educated at Ballyclare High School from 1971-78, Mrs Stewart went on to study at Queen’s University, Belfast from 1978-82, gaining first a BA Hons Degree in Geography with History subsidiary and then a PGCE the following year.
Starting out in Social Studies (History and Geography) at Downshire in September 1983, Mrs Stewart taught a range of other subjects during her time at the school, including History, Geography, Travel and Tourism Marketing, Games, Citizenship, and Careers.
“In 2004 I was appointed to the permanent position of vice principal, and then on Mr Bailie’s retirement, I was appointed, following interviews, to the post of principal in 2006, a post I held for 12 years until my retirement in 2018," Mrs Stewart said.
With a career spanning over three decades, Mrs Stewart praised the support she has received from colleagues over the years.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my teaching career and time as principal in Downshire," she added. "I have worked alongside many excellent people and have been fortunate to have served under great principals – Mr Jackson, Mr Brewster, Mrs Sinnamon and Mr Bailie – who have been role models for me throughout my career.
"As principal I have had wonderful support over the years from my vice principals – Mr McKinstry, Mr Patterson and Mrs Webb. I am indebted to all those good people who served on the senior management teams alongside me.
"Over the years I have worked with many great teachers who care so much about the well-being of the young people in front of them and who put so much effort into helping them to gain academic success and social skills.
"One of the main strengths of Downshire is our sense of 'family', where we all care about each other and give our friends and colleagues excellent support whenever needed. Even when staff retire, they always keep in touch with school events which is lovely.
"I have also been very fortunate in having marvellous support from external agencies, many EA officers, our excellent Board of Governors under the strong leadership of chairman Mr T Creighton, MBE and vice-chair, Mrs H Rankin and a superb Parent Teacher Association, led over the years by Mrs G Robb, BEM, Mrs M Carson and Mrs K McCrory.
"Our Governors and PTA members have given their time generously and readily and have been enormously loyal supporters of our school and of me and for this I am very grateful."
As for her pupils, the outgoing head expressed her pride at seeing them grow in confidence during their time at Downshire. "I have loved seeing young people coming into school at the age of 11, many of whom felt like 'failures' because they had not got a particular score in the 11+ or more recently AQE, and seeing them grow in confidence and develop a whole range of skills which they could take into the outside world, achieving excellent examination results and leaving us as mature and confident young adults, ready to embrace the world of work or Further Education," she added.
"I am so proud of our Downshire young people and am always delighted to meet up with former pupils and to learn how they have fared in life. It is lovely too to have so many families who have sent generations of children to our school which creates a very special bond.
"I was very touched to be nominated for the Northern Ireland Teaching Awards by two pupils in 2003 and was thrilled when I won – not only was it lovely for me, but I also saw it as a victory for all the staff in Downshire School. Subsequently, I have been delighted to endorse many of our staff for the Teaching Awards since this and have been really pleased when they have achieved success."
Running the school has not been without its challenges over the years, however. "Today’s economic climate has created huge stress for school leaders and has made our job much more
difficult. The pupils in our care only get one chance at their education and the sooner there is an injection of capital into the education sector for the benefit of our country’s future, the better," Mrs Stewart said.
The local woman is looking forward to spending more time with her family and continuing an active lifestyle. "We look forward to more breaks and holidays, no longer having to take them during school holiday periods and to keeping in touch with old and new friends," she added.
"I have always been a keen sportswoman, and although my days of competitive hockey, badminton and tennis are long behind me, I now look forward to getting back to regular exercise and all the benefits that this brings, and of course more walking for our big dog, Alfie!
"I enjoy reading and visiting historical and geographical places of interest, so the senior management team's retirement gift to me of Family Membership of the National Trust will get a good turn!
"Perhaps I will be able to combine all of these interests in some part-time or casual work as a tour guide in our local area. I would also be interested in voluntary work of some sort."