What you need to know:
- The principal believes discipline among students is the key to success .
- For close to 25 years, he says, the institution has not had serious disciplinary issues.
He would have been a man working as a lawyer, arguing out cases and interpreting the law.
But he missed law school by a point, and Mr Kipchumba Maiyo, now a teacher, is shaping the future of his “boys” as the chief principal at Kapsabet High School.
Standing at 5’9”, he cuts the figure of a hulk with a warm demeanour. He is a father, both at school and at home. At home, he has family to take care of. At school, he takes care of about 2,000 students and a staffroom that depends on his counsel.
Each day, he lives by the mantra of giving to the children selflessly so they can perform. In more than a decade of being the principal, he prides himself with the excellence now associated with the school.
A record like sending an entire class of 461 students to university in the 2021 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations is something to make one stand tall. In fact, only one student scored a C+ and Kapsabet was the best school nationally in KCSE 2021. But Mr Maiyo doesn’t gloat. He describes himself as “just a normal teacher who goes to class with chalk”.
Having taught for 28 years, he is a meticulous manager. He says he has always given his all in everything he does. But it is at Kapsabet that his great leadership has strongly manifested. Soft-spoken and firm is what you deduce of Mr Maiyo’s character when you meet him.
He spoke with Lifestyle at his first floor office on Thursday, a day after the official Form One reporting day. On Wednesday, he had been with his teaching staff to oversee the admission and to interact with the students from the first day. He was out to welcome the boys into their new family.
Some guardians and parents were still arriving in the compound with their children on Thursday. While some had just reported late, others wanted to have a word with Mr Maiyo, seeking to have their children admitted to the school — requests he turned down. During our interview, Mr Maiyo would attend to one parent here; a phone call there. In between, he paced from his office and his deputies’ offices.
In four years, the boys who reported last week will walk out as men of good morals to impact society.
Situated 40 kilometres south west of Eldoret, Kapsabet High School was founded in February 1925 as Government African School, managed by the area District Education Board. The school’s stone-walled fence borders the Eldoret-Kisumu highway. The rest of the fence is a live fence.
From the gate, all one can see is scenic greenery. The ambience beyond this point is serene. As the gate closes behind, it shuts out the noise from the road and ushers one to an environment where everyone knows where they should be at any given time, underscoring the school motto: “Strive to excel”.
The school’s logo has the image of a lion. Below it, the motto is emblazoned.
“In this area”, the principal said, “there is only one lion: Kapsabet Boys.”
Bordering the gate is a makeshift bus stop. But the chaotic nature of the matatu stage is cut off once one enters the school.
The left wing of the school, which borders the fence, is nearly dormant. This side is only used by visitors. Walking on this side, we were told, is prohibited for students, unless one is walking home. Virtually everything can be accessed from the right wing.
And when leaving the institution, a student must sign out using a biometric gadget stationed at the gate that instantly sends an alert to the class teacher and the guardian. Guards ensure that this rule is followed to the letter.
Learning is not confined to the classroom walls as there are messages all over the compound.
As one heads to the administration block, one finds a notice that reads: “We receive boys and make men out of them”.
Another one says: “It is the privilege of wisdom to listen.”
Mr Maiyo first walked into a classroom in 1994 to teach history and religious studies. He would then be posted to Cheptil Secondary School as a deputy principal. He remembers that at the time, the school which had 54 students, was on the verge of collapsing.
By the time he was leaving, the student population had risen to about 800. It is here that he learnt the art of patience and believing in the process as he pressed for success.
One memory he carries from Cheptil, dear to him, is being able to found the Malkia volleyball team.
He walked into the compound of Kapsabet Boys as a principal in July 2010. His mission was to steer it into becoming a centre of excellence. And, with time, it has been revealed that he totally understood the assignment.
At the time of his posting, he only wished his school would be among the top schools in the country. At the time, the school flickered occasionally on the national radar, and few expected it to compete on equal footing with the academic giants.
He said that before 2010, the school was only admitting students from within its area, mostly drawn from the Rift Valley. With his entrance, it was elevated to a national school. By then, it had built its foundation on consistently posting good KCSE results, and it was able to attract a number of bright boys from across the country.
“From 2011, the results and the performance of the school changed drastically because we were able to attract very brilliant boys. And, that’s when we went to the top 10 nationally,” he explained.
From there henceforth, he said, the school has progressively been within the top five.
In 2016, only two students scored A, while 79 scored A-. At the time, 283 scored C+ and above. In 2017, three had As. Since then, the performance has been recording an upward trend.
In 2019, the school was second best in the country. It took the national crown in 2020 with a mean of 10.5. In 2021, the school defended its title, posting a mean of 10.7 and producing the best mean grade and highest number of those who scored C+ and above in the country.
According to the principal, around 99,000 students applied to join Kapsabet last year. But the school can only take 500.
In 2020, Mr Maiyo was awarded an Order of the Grand Warrior award by President Kenyatta. He dedicated the award to his teachers, with whom, he said, he teamed to produce “men”.
“I didn’t expect this. The issuance of titles doesn’t excite me,” he said. “For me, it is service to the people that matters. I understand that I am just a captain steering a large ship.”
Looking outside the window of his office, you get a glimpse of the institution he heads. You come to terms with the vastness of a school he has seen rise from provincial to national status.
When seated, his back turned towards the boarding section, he can see the tuition section without much struggle. But the two (boarding and academics) have direct managers — a deputy in charge of the boarding and another in charge of the academics.
He also has another deputy in charge of administration. His work is mainly supervision, getting updates real-time on everything going on within the school. He knows his deputies have his back; quite literally. Even with such an assurance, he takes no chances. He calls his deputies regularly.
Beyond the windows of his office, away from the tens of trophies decorating it, the school field can be seen. On Thursday, it was dotted with tens of white tents that had been used in admission of Form Ones.
Beyond the tents, the maroon roofs of the dormitories glistened in the afternoon sun. Students wear maroon sweaters, grey trousers, white shirts and maroon ties. Wherever you look, you get a sense of meticulous order.
With his office strategically placed, a visitor gets the sense of a man who has a total grip on his institution. He likes power dispensed subtly, in this manner. He said that he aimed at being an ever-present leader.
“I strive to touch every soul in these premises,” he said, adding that every morning he wakes up hoping to impact more souls of the students he has been left with to father.
Managing more than 2,000 students may not be easy. Just how does he achieve order?
The school, Mr Maiyo said, had adopted an open-door policy where everyone is allowed to walk into any office any time they wish.
“I manage processes. I ensure there are clear lines of communication without any grey areas. The rest take care of themselves because, really, people cannot be managed,” he said.
When tested, sometimes by circumstances he’d rather forget, he has always risen to the occasion; no matter what it takes. The only adversary he is sure to lose to, he says, is one that none of us will beat — death.
Given the strides the school has made under his leadership, Mr Maiyo said stakeholders are proud of the institution.
“The teachers we have here are selfless. The students are disciplined. And, the results are sterling,” he said, noting that his secret to success is teamwork.
“We’ve really transformed this school tremendously,” he added.
Whatever pushed Kapsabet to the top can first of all be attributed to the good discipline of the boys. For close to 25 years, he explained, Kapsabet has not had any serious disciplinary issues.
Slightly more than a decade ago, there was not a tarmacked footpath in the school, and its infrastructure was generally degraded. Now, from the gate, the roads are tarmacked. The one to the left leads to the dormitories section while the one to the right heads to the tuition section.
There has also been heightened focus on individual learners.
“As we sharpen the head, we cut the tail by organising remedial classes by coaching these children who are weak, to push their grades,” he explained.
He continued: “There’s nothing else that is extraordinary. Most of these boys had 400 marks in KCPE. This is an equivalent of an A. So, really, they walk in as A students. There’s nothing peculiar when they walk out with As. Here, we only contain their character because disciplined learners will yield.”
“You give us A, we exit A. No secret; here we work hard. It’s sheer hard work,” he added.
But Kapsabet Boys is not only about academics. It also has clubs and games societies to offer co-curricular knowledge and interactions.
Alumni from Kapsabet are in diverse sectors of this country, and because some have held senior positions in government, it is seen as the school of leadership.
“We’re walking in the footsteps of former President Daniel Moi, who was a student in Kapsabet between 1935 and 1942,” said Mr Maiyo.
The late President Moi, the school records indicate, was index 506 in his year. He rose to be the second president of the republic.
Deputy President William Ruto is also a former student of Kapsabet, Mr Maiyo said.
For parents who wonder what will happen to their children once they leave, the principal has a simple assurance: “They are in safe hands.”
He also promised to add value to them — more than just grades.
“For the first two weeks in school, we orientate them to the culture of Kapsabet Boys. We instil in them the weight of the responsibility on their shoulders within a fortnight by telling them the history of the school. During this period, they also socialise. Once we’re confident that they can bear the weight of the responsibility, we now move to academics and start teaching them,” he said. “They will walk out total men; moulded in character, academics and stature.”
And when he retires, he will be proud to see and hear reviews of people whose souls he touched when they were students, he said. For now, his school, Kapsabet High School, like Ugenya High School, are among the schools that have managed to send 100 per cent of their 2021 candidates to university.