Katerina Kerkova, Director, on the principles that rule one of Bulgaria's most successful schools
Each year, when the results of the 7th grade final exams are announced, the name of St Sofia Private Primary School is in a leading position with the stellar performance of its students. The results show clearly that the school is successful in its mission to prepare knowledgeable, skilled and inspiring individuals with a broad horizon on the world and the will and abilities to change it. At St Sofia, children learn the most important things to become successful and happy adults: integrity, responsibility, professionalism, a strive for purpose and self-perfection.
The school's director, Katerina Kerkova, shares more.
For yet another year St Sofia Private Primary School demonstrated excellent results on the 7th grade final exams. How do you, as a manager, and the teachers' team sustainably achieve this success?
The Bulgarian Ministry of Education has ranked the schools in the country based on the results of the 7th grade exams since 2012. Ever since, St Sofia Private Primary School has been among Sofia's top 3 schools, and among the best 5 schools in Bulgaria. However, it appears to me that before answering the question "What is the reason for your excellent results?" we need to underline first why these results are important for us.
The goal of all teachers at St Sofia is to do the best possible things for our students. This faces us with the problem of what do we actually want to teach our children. With the years, we have changed, expanded and corrected our curriculum to meet our needs and our set goals. And now, the technological future is already a reality. The paths we follow in our efforts to master the pandemic have changed the whole society. It is no longer hard to find information, what is hard is to estimate its quality and whether it is true. This is why we need to find solutions to a very hard and testing question: What can we give to our students today that will be helpful to them after 20-30-40 years.
We believe that in the modern complex world it is priceless for children to believe that they can achieve everything they set for themselves as a goal and work hard towards. Our results are not an end in itself, but an indicator. We show them to the students at the end of the year and we tell them: "Here, you studied and worked hard, and you succeeded!". Wanting something is not enough. You need to prepare a plan and to start realising it. The successes are the result of the knowledge that our children master, and the skills that we aim to build in them.
As for the question how do we achieve these results, the answer is easy - because we are a team. One of the hardest things is to establish and maintain trust between people. I think that precisely this, as well as the responsibility and respect that we all - teachers, students and parents, - feel for one another, helps us together to demonstrate our personal best. The teachers' support encourages our students to dream, to fight. Many of them go further than what they thought they would be able to - and this gives them wings. Our children are wonderful - intelligent, energetic, inquisitive. They charge our whole community with charm and cheerfulness.
Last, but not least, are parents. Their support is priceless, and the shared common goals and values are the glue that binds all of us.
It is important to underline that our excellent performance is not limited to the 7th grade final exams. For a fourth year in a row now, St Sofia Private Primary School has won the Cambridge award for the best centre for English language preparation in Bulgaria. We owe this to the impressive results of our students on the international certification exams for language mastership. This year, 278 of our children successfully took the Flyers, KET, PET and FCE exams. Of them, 210 got an А.
The responsibility of our school's managerial team is to create an environment where everyone feels calm and safe, and has the best possible conditions to grow. In this respect the past school year was a huge challenge. The Covid-19 wave utterly transformed the work condition and a lot of effort was required from us to restore our balance. The greater part of our teachers got Covid-19. Many of them continued working from home even at this moment. We built mobile stations to allow both teachers and students to participate from a distance in the classrooms where classes were being held in person. We provided everyone with the opportunity to choose what type of education they prefer, and allowed them to be confident that their health was protected while not missing a single lesson. It was very hard, but we understood that together we can overcome this challenge as well. We recognised new opportunities and we identified new needs - fields in which we will continue to work. This is the reason why we are so happy with our children's this year's exam results. They show that all of us succeeded.
You talk a lot about personal growth. On which aspects do you focus?
The psychologists at St Sofia Private Primary School created a personal development programme based on project-based education. We develop emotional intelligence, tolerant approach, independence and responsibility, cooperation skills, conflict solving, presentation skills, communication, critical thinking, time management, decision making and a lot more. We develop projects that provide children with the opportunity to master the competencies of the 21st century. The projects are divided by age groups and take in regard their respective capabilities. The latest idea that entertained the older students was to create an escape room which was then used by the younger ones.
The time dynamics suggests that people will use a lot more, and more effectively, the qualities they have as individuals - to abilities to work in a team, to make decisions, to be flexible. These are skills will be helpful to them regardless of the field in which the children choose to develop.
St Sofia is more than a school - it is a community. What is its life?
We offer a lot of extracurricular activities that reflect the children's interests: fun maths, creative writing, coding, theatre, dances, chess, piano, music, art, and different sports. We often organise events and celebrations of important dates for Bulgaria. All of them are united by the idea that children can express themselves, can identify and develop their strong sides, and can realise their creative potential. We organise and we participate in different forms of charity, we build environmentalist culture, we teach civic self-awareness. Our school calendar is full with a number of activities that make the children's everyday life diverse and challenging.
We are proud of the scores of medals that our students have won in a plethora of olympiads, competitions and sport tournaments. We are convinced that this is the most correct way for children to believe in their powers and to grow as talented, adaptive, motivated and inspiring personalities. And what is more encouraging for the development of a child than growing among winners?
The good combination of knowledge, emotional intelligence and sustainability is crucial for unleashing our children's potential.
Sofia, 7 Moreni St
phone: +359 (2) 857 0119