High-flying principal Boaz Owino is just acclimatising to the new reality of life after retirement from a career where he shattered record after record.
His intense yet remotely vivacious persona is hardly surprising to the people he interacts with.
So much that you have to wonder where he draws the modesty and guardedness with which he speaks about his colourful career spanning over three decades that has made him an idol for many.
Wherever he was posted as a principal, the 60-year-old always placed the school on a growth trajectory.
Of all the stellar scores the institutions he headed registered, the highlight of his career, he says, was when Maranda High School registered a mean score of 11.3 in KCSE 2011.
“There has never been a moment as great as that. Every teacher looks forward to the day when their students excel,” says Mr Owino.
The last cohort of students, a group he fondly refers to as being lucky, was the one that sat the KCSE 2022 exams at Nyambaria Secondary School – a school he joined in 2018. The institution recorded a mean score of 10.89 to emerge among the top schools in the country.
Although some Kenyans doubted the stellar results posted by schools in the Gusii region, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu dismissed the rigging claims as attempts at profiling the region he hails from.
Mr Machogu also vindicated Nyambaria’s performance, attributing it to the good leadership of its former principal.
But what does it take to be a great leader?
“It is not just a walk in the park,” he explained. “You can’t just walk into a school as a principal today and get the results. You have to make a raft of changes.
“I personally have a preferred style. I usually work with more deputies. The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) allows for only two but I usually have slightly more than that. At Maranda, I had four. At Nyambaria, I had five. All with different roles.”
He went on: “I also do a lot of delegation to all the teachers. I don’t assume anything or any stakeholder be it the students, the teachers or the board of management.”
For the students, he ensured they have great meals, that they enjoy their stay and that all the lessons are taught. For the teachers, he said, he ensured they are always motivated to work. He occasionally supervised their teaching and asked them to fully prepare for the lessons.
But the secret to stellar performance is in finishing the syllabus on time and embarking on a lot of revision, he said.
“Teaching is so intense. I ensure the teachers cover the syllabus in the shortest time possible and embark on revision, which is exactly what brings us the great results,” he told the Saturday Nation.
Mr Owino started his career at Maranda High School in 1989 as a class teacher. He rose through the ranks to become the deputy and was transferred to Got Agulu Secondary as principal.
Maranda High School, where he began his career, is the very school that also thrust him to fame. Upon transfer, he pulled a short stint at Nyambaria Secondary School in Nyamira County on the sunset days of his career.
You can hardly tell when Mr Owino is impressed or otherwise. But a wide smile laced with both pride and humility, the first of this nature, escapes his lips as his face lightens up when we ask: “How does heading schools and registering good performances in both make you feel?”
“You celebrate your results,” he says. “Always give your best. Upward mobility only comes through hard work. Everybody would want to celebrate you. That is the beauty of doing well.”
But these are the great times. There were bad times too. In 2013, he recalls, “We had a problem with computer studies. The students might have copied another bright student. It was detected and their results were withheld.”
In the wake of the contested sudden rise of some schools, the Senate Education committee intends to probe the alleged irregularity.
Mr Owino argues that it is the only way to verify but while at it, he urges the committee to ‘go beyond sitting in Nairobi to discuss the matter’.
“It’s not a bad move. They need to go to those schools. It’s not just about academics. See how the schools are run and how various stakeholders go about their day that then translates into the results,” he said.
Measured yet firm with his words, Mr Owino has had a roller-coaster ride in his teaching career. In 2011, after Maranda High School performed well in KCSE, he was awarded a Head of State Commendation (HSC) title by President Mwai Kibaki.
But he always wanted to be a police officer. He found the idea of being a detective so fascinating. He imagined that solving puzzles of crime and that apprehending criminals would be more fulfilling. As a crime buster, he would contribute immensely to the nation’s sanity, only to miss the opportunity of joining the uniformed forces because of his short stature.
His sharp, piercing eyes and difficult-to-please personality plus the books he read, he believed, he was poised for the job. But it was not to be. But he channelled those instincts towards busting undisciplined students in the schools he headed.
He has had a gratifying walk, however, in a career that neither his family nor background had an interest in.
“My success as a teacher has inspired them [to join the industry],” he says, advising school heads to cultivate a culture of determination and hard work among their students if they are to excel.
With four sons and a beautiful wife, his career could not have been more gratifying. He has nurtured many, taught many others and touched numerous lives. Some of the old boys reach out to him, especially the Maranda class of 2011, he said.
“And many are doing so well in their various fields. My students’ success was always my motivation in life,” he added.
“And going by how several alumni of schools where I taught describe me on social media, I know they really like me,” he went on. “But I do not like publicity. I want to live a simple life.”
While he was in service, he did so much. Having retired last year, what he carries now are memories of his time as a teacher. So long as you have clocked 50 years, your mind begins to think of retirement with each sunset.
“But just like the beginning, the end is always inevitable,” he says.
“On the last day, it is painful leaving your colleagues and students. It is painful to everybody. That’s when you feel the magnitude of what your absence will mean to them,” he reminisced. “Some of my students cried. Some promised to get a grade A.”
Retirement, he says, is lonely.
“I have gone back to class to finish up my PhD in literature at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University. I read novels that I have picked for my research. I now spend most of my time on my farm since I have not considered taking up any other roles yet,” he says.