Ronald Frans is a remarkable man and a true example of how one individual can make a significant impact. Born a leader, supported by the community and empowered by partnerships.
Raised by his grandparents, Ronald grew up as the eldest of six children in the small coastal town of Mossel Bay. They all lived together in scheme houses that were given to them by the government whilst most of his friends stayed in their own homes.
Despite his unequal starting point, his grandparents taught him to do everything with passion and excellence without expecting anything back. People would come flocking to his grandma’s house when they needed something – she would never turn anyone away.
“My grandparent’s values and virtues played a pivotal role in my upbringing. It still influences my thinking and dealings with those around me. They instilled in me the values of caring and love for my fellow human being.”
A leader is born
It was during his teenager years at Sao Bras High School that his leadership qualities were acknowledged and developed. He was one of only eight learners in his grade to take mathematics as a subject and was chosen as a class captain.
“Being chosen as a leader amidst where I came from inspired and affirmed my leadership. It taught me that I do not have to stand back for anyone.”
His maths teacher at that stage, Mr Eric Jeffery, left an enormous impact on his life and ignited the desire in his heart to become a mathematics teacher himself one day. Today, four of the eight learners that took maths in his class are teachers.
The school environment was not the only place where his leadership skills were noticed. As a first year student at South Cape Teachers College (OKSK back then), Frans was asked to captain the first rugby team. This was the first time that a first year was chosen as captain. He also played provincial rugby for South West District (SWD) and later captained City and Suburban in Cape Town (likened to a provincial team during the time of segregation in South African sport).
Love along the way
As a young man, rugby player and college graduate, it was time to enter the working world. He vividly recalls his first day of teaching, both excited and anxious, he entered the premises of Valhalla Secondary in 1981 and was greeted by a teacher who was dress in a pretty tiger skin dress. It was not long after that moment that she became his best friend, biggest supported and wife. This year the two celebrated 35 years of marriage.
“Because I am happy at home, I have very little stress. My wife is a big contributor to my success.”
From educator to principal
Ronald taught at Valhalla Secondary in Cape Town for four years. Thereafter, he applied for the position of department head at Klapmuts Primary. The move led him to be reunited with his high school teacher and mentor Mr Jeffery who at the time was the principal of Klapmuts. He made the most of the opportunity and learned all he could from him.
In 1994 Ronald took over from Jeffery and became the principal of Klapmuts Primary. The community of Klapmuts faces high unemployment and poverty and the school is a No Fee School with 1300 of the 1500 learners’ receiving social grants.
“I had a vision to create a culture where the community views the school as a beacon of hope. A lighthouse providing guidance and a hub of information.”
Vision becoming reality
Part of Ronald’s dream was to build community pride in Klapmuts. He wanted their own people to become the local role models.
When he started teaching at Klapmuts there were no teachers from the community and the parents weren’t really engaged. He started inspiring locals to become teachers and got The Cape Wine Auction Trust to fund the appointment of 24 teacher assistants – all of them from Klapmuts. He decided to make the newly built school hall available to the community free of charge.
Amongst many other initiatives, Ronald also started a needlework and gardening project and built partnerships with the British High Commission and Swedish nonprofits to help fund his vision. The projects reached enormous success and even led to the United Nations visit them.
Besides community ownership and empowerment, Ronald also steered the school in becoming a thought leader in the area of e-learning. The school now has 12 smart classrooms, data projectors for every classroom (40) and the Western Cape Education Department is currently busy installing fibre internet for the entire school.
These initiatives allowed the community to take ownership of the school and as a result Klapmuts Primary didn’t experience any break-ins or vandalism.
A challenge was however the school building – it was literally falling apart. Ronald refused to expose the learners to the safety risks and as a public protest he used red tape to block the entrance. The timing was perfect and the Independent Development Trust had just been task to replace dilapidated schools.
In 2010 Klapmuts Primary opened its new state-of-the-art school building designed in close collaboration with the learners’ dreams and desires. Today, the school hosts a school-public library with the community having full access to take out books, do research and use the computers and free internet.
The importance of partnerships
Apart from inspiring community participation, no vision would be accomplished without wider collaboration.
One of these partners was a Valcare member, Partners for Possibility (PfP), who connects school 750 principals with business leaders in a year-long, structured programme of leadership development and support. Ronald together with his PfP mentor, Theo van den Berg of Remgro, has taken the concept of partnerships to enforce quality education to the next level. Van der Berg acted as a sounding board and a conduit to access much-needed donor opportunities.
Other incredible partnerships also include Remgro and the Val De Vie Foundation.
One of the #RealHeroes in South Africa
Ronald Benjamin Frans is a formidable leader who inspires transformation and innovation. An example of what is possible when leaders take charge with vision, compassion, inclusiveness and partnerships.