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'This wonderful young teacher...'

Paul Rowe, CEO, Educate Together
On Friday May 8th, I had the honour to speak at the retirement party for Sally Sheils, Principal of the North Dublin National School Project. The event was an evening of celebration, excellent food and conversation in the function room of the Na Fianna club house in Glasnevin, Dublin. This is my speech from the night. 

“I’d like to make some short remarks from three different perspectives, but first of all, I’d like to thank Senator David Norris for his wonderful words this evening; also to thank him for all the support he has given Educate Together over the years and the support and help he has given me on the occasions I have been up at the Oireachtas talking to politicians. You have been a great help to us and it is wonderful to see you so well and in such fine voice again after your recent illness. Thank you very much David.
The first perspective I would like to speak from my role as CEO of Educate Together and to wish Sally the heartfelt congratulations on her career as principal of the NDNSP and very good wishes for her retirement from all in Educate Together - All the 77 school communities of our movement, the 22,000 pupils,1,200 teachers, the board of directors, the staff of the national office and the now over 1,000 active volunteers managing our schools.
These congratulations and good wishes are special because of the historic contribution that you have made. In 2015, what we tend to forget is what a tremendous, courageous and pathbreaking step it was to become the principal of the third Educate Together school in the 1980s. It was a very different step to that which is taken by principals for new Educate Together schools today, when Educate Together is a recognised and mainstream alternative in Irish education with support structures, recognition in colleges of teacher education and support from all political parties and the department. The first school opened in 1978 in Dun Laoghaire, the second in Bray in 1981 and then NDNSP opened in 1984. Teachers were regularly told - even by their own union - that they would not get a job in Ireland again if the schools failed. We were considered a lunatic fringe by the Department. Just to mention a few features of those times: there were no resource teachers, no special needs allocations, class sizes were huge. In wider Irish society, unmarried mothers were shunned and their children were illegitimate, there was no divorce, no contraception, homosexuality was illegal and the conflict in the North was at its height.
Acknowledging that context now, it is really important for all of us to mark the crucial contribution that you made to the building of the foundations of the Educate Together movement, the advocacy you undertook on our behalf during your career and Presidency of the INTO, in the Dublin Trades Union Council and the real contribution that this made to the evolution and reform of Irish education and wider society.
I think it is important too to mark that this contribution was made with a certain style of openness, friendship, warmth and an absolute commitment to the rights and education of the children in the school you founded.
Speaking shortly before her death, Florrie Armstrong, Dalkey School Project’s first principal, told me the story of how impressed and excited she was when she heard that you had taken the job. She said “this wonderful mad young teacher had given up the safest Principalship in the Church of Ireland to start the North Dublin School.”
So “Thank you” from all of us. Thank you for all the commitment and all the remarkable and wonderful stories that we will hear much of tonight.
The second thing I would like to say is quite personal. I would like to thank Sally for the encouragement and help she has given me in my work in Educate Together over the past 20 years. Her adroit recruitment of a busy professional onto a board of management, her encouragement of my ideas to organise Science and Technology and other Festivals and her astute selection of me to represent the NDNSP at Educate Together in the 1990s when the modern Educate Together was being forged as the dynamic educational charity that it now is.
Lastly, as a parent of two fine graduates of this school, and I am sure I am speaking on behalf of many other parents and past pupils, a simple profound thanks for the care and diligence, respect and friendship with which you led your team and the wonderful educational environment that you have created in this school for the last 30 and a half years."
Address: Educate Together, Equity House, 16/17 Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin 7, Ireland - Charity Number: CHY 11816