Pupils bid farewell to long-serving principal

Lauren O’Connor-May

Liesbeeck Primary School was full of tears and cheers as the school said goodbye to its longest-serving principal on Monday February 29.

Nicklaas Hoffman, who turned 63 on February 28, said goodbye to the school which he had led for the last 30 years.

The much-loved Mr Hoffman, from Kuils River, dropped the bombshell of his retirement on unsuspecting staff two weeks ago, teachers said.

“I told them on the first day of term that I was leaving some time this year,” Mr Hoffman said laughing. “But I only told them two weeks ago that I was officially leaving.”

After the initial shock wore off, the staff, led by the capable hands of teacher Rashieda Cupido, lost no time in putting together an elaborate and lively farewell.

Balloons of red and white, the school’s colours, floated up against table legs and gazebos. Love was the theme of the day – with everything from pupils to cooldrinks arranged in the shape of hearts.

Along the school walls, pupils had stuck messages of farewell.

“You were the best principal,” said Ethan. “I was all the time in your office when I was in Grade 3.”

An anonymous card said: “I love you Mr Hoffman. You are the best Mr Hoffman. I am going to Mrs you (sic).”

Denise wrote: “I know we gave you troble (sic) but just remember we all love you.” One confused pupil wrote: “Happy birthday!”

Another wrote: “You will always be a part of Liesbeeck.”

Mr Hoffman has been “a part of Liesbeeck” since 1985. He came to the school as deputy principal after working as the head of department at Hillside Primary School for five years and being seconded to Mandalay for a few months to open a new school there.

Prior to that he had worked as a senior teacher at Merrydale Primary school for a year. But Mr Hoffman didn’t only work at Mitchell’s Plain schools. He started his schooling career at WA Rossouw Primary School in Montague. He worked there for eight years.

“That is such a beautiful town,” he said. “I really think it is the most beautiful town in the Western Cape.”

In total Mr Hoffman has 42 years of teaching under his belt.

Before Mr Hoffman’s arrival at the farewell, pupils and teachers waited in anxious excitement.

“We offered to fetch him by limo,” teacher Caren De Klerk said. “But he wanted to drive in on his own and park in his old parking bay – like he always does.”

As Mr Hoffman arrived, the school broke into applause and cheers, but he barely made it into his 30-metre long, pupil-lined guard of honour before tears started streaming down some of the staff’s faces. Tiny Grade R pupils, at the front of the guard, looked confused at the flow of emotions but were distracted by tearful teachers encouraging them to “clap, clap, clap”.

But Mr Hoffman’s mark has touched more than just Liesbeeck Primary. In 1982, he was an executive member of a team of principals that started a bursary fund for underprivileged children.

“It was the Principals’ Association that started the bursary fund,” Mr Hoffman said, not wanting to take the credit all for himself, even though it is his face that is stuck on all the old newspaper articles about the fund on the school’s wall. The fund is still going but under a different banner.

“Under the new dispensation, it came under the banner of the Progressive Principals’ Association,” he said. Mr Hoffman said his fondest memories of the school will be the school tours. “I’m also a tour guide,” he said. “I organised the school tour to Oudtshoorn and the Garden Route every year.” He is also proud of Liesbeeck’s many academic and sporting achievements.

“We were the best school for the last three years in maths and English,” he declared proudly. “And we won in the athletics section.”

When asked what he would miss the most he said: “The children. I will really miss the children. I told them, there is a time for everything.”