Portlaoise native Malachy McNulty is thrilled to be back on his home ground, as new principal of St Francis School.
He took on his new position in January, having previously been Programme Co-ordinator in St John’s Education Centre in Dublin.
“It’s fantastic to be back in town. I grew up around these schools, I went to St Mary’s CBS. I had to pinch myself to believe I was returning home again,” said Mr McNulty, who is also the manager of the Portlaoise senior football team.
St Francis School on the Timahoe road serves children from all around Laois and beyond, who have a variety of mild to medium learning disabilities.
“We have 94 pupils aged between 5 and 19, with 12 teachers, 14 SNAs and ten bus escorts. It’s a very challenging role. There is a huge requirement to provide for special education needs,” he told the Leinster Express.
Along with Kolbe Special School, St Francis is the last school still waiting on a new building to start in Portlaoise.
The prefab style building is accepted as “not fit for purpose”, and the parish and parents are campaigning for several years for better facilities.
A new school is now promised by the dept of education, on the site of St Paul's NS, given by Portlaoise Parish.
However it must wait until Holy Family pupils vacate St Paul’s in June.
It will then be demolished, and a new school for St Francis designed and built on the site.
The principal is hopeful the school might be complete by 2020.
“There has been a lot of other new schools, but I’m confident that a lot of movement is going on behind the scenes. It would be fantastic if it is built in the next two to three years. The parish and government are extremely supportive of this,” he said.
A spacious bright purpose built school built for children with special needs, would make a big difference.
“It’s huge, you can even see it with the mainstream schools, it steps everything up a notch, and would give a real ‘feelgood factor’, and give everybody a lift,” he said.
He is impressed by the quality of his staff.
“This might be an old building, but that is overshadowed by the great staff here. It takes time to settle in, but I am working at getting everything running as smoothly as possible, so that when we transition to a new school, it will be as fluid as possible,” he said.
Parents have in the past spoken about the lack of regular communication from the school, something the new principal is keen to improve.
“We are trying to foster transparency, from the Board of Management right through to the Parents Association. It is very important,” said Mr McNulty.