From Schoolgirl to School Leader: A Journey Unveiled - Varthana

As a schoolgirl, she dreamt of becoming a teacher. Today, she shines as a school leader

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Padma and Venkatesh Baligar, Jnana Bharathi Lower Primary School, Bellary, Karnataka

Once, a young schoolgirl was asked by her teacher, “What do you aspire to be when you grow up?” With bright eyes and brimming with confidence, she replied, “I want to become a teacher.” Yet, her dream was met with skepticism, for her academic performance did not reflect typical teacher material. Time, however, has a way of reshaping narratives. Today, that same girl, once doubted and underestimated, stands tall not just as a teacher, but as the proud owner of Jnana Bharathi Lower Primary School in Bellary.

 Padma and Venkatesh Baligar, Jnana Bharathi Lower Primary School, Bellary, Karnataka

Meet Padma, the force behind the school and the wife of co-leader Venkatesh Baligar.

Venkatesh beams with pride when he speaks of her, “It was Padma’s vision and determination that led us to establish this school. Otherwise, I would’ve been content running my tutorial classes.”

His faith plays a significant role in their journey. He believes that the universe rewards those truly deserving of their dreams. “Just as it did for my wife,” he adds with respect in his eyes.

The journey before

Back in 1980, after completing his B.Com, Venkatesh took the first steps towards his passion for education. He set up his coaching center, guiding students from school through college for many years. Meanwhile, Padma, after completing her PUC2, got married and embraced her domestic duties, her childhood dream of teaching lay dormant in the backdrop of her responsibilities.

“However, dreams have a way of resurfacing, especially those close to the heart,” says Venkatesh with a smile. Nearly 25 years into their marriage, Padma’s aspirations rekindled. She began modestly, gathering children from the neighborhood to teach, play, and engage in fun-filled activities throughout the day. Her dedication and passion were evident, and soon, more children gravitated towards her.

Her genuine interest and knack for nurturing young minds did not go unnoticed. The community, witnessing her talent and commitment, began to see a potential educational leader in her.

Inspired by his wife’s zeal and buoyed by the encouragement from the community, together they founded the Jnana Bharathi Lower Primary School in 2010. “Although we started humble, working from a rented house and teaching just pre-primary classes, it reflected my wife’s revived dream and her relentless passion for education,” he candidly admits.

Also Read: From Change to Success: One Person’s Journey of Making a Difference and Striving for More

The journey now

In just six years, the school evolved from its modest beginnings and moved into its own dedicated building. Today, it proudly offers English-medium instruction up to the 5th grade, serving around 204 students with the guidance of seven dedicated teachers.

Venkatesh speaks with a mix of admiration and pride, “Padma masterfully oversees the pre-primary section. The solid foundation she lays for these young students ensures their success as they progress to higher classes.” Their partnership in the school’s management is harmonious: while Padma focuses on building a strong educational foundation for the young generation, Venkatesh takes charge of the senior students.

“Every ounce of energy, every fee, and every moment we’ve invested has borne fruit,” Venkatesh states, reflecting on their journey. “Our resources are precisely what we need to ensure the school thrives.”

He reflects on their long-standing reputation: “Even with numerous schools in this area, our reputation, built over three decades in education — first with tutorials and now with our school — ensures we never feel threatened by competition.”

Venkatesh and Padma’s formula for success? Consistent hard work and an unwavering dedication. With such commitment, they ensure that the school runs seamlessly, allowing them to focus on what truly matters: nurturing young minds and preparing them for the future.

The journey through COVID-19

“In these trying times, we faced unique challenges,” Venkatesh begins, “The majority of our students come from rural, underprivileged backgrounds. Most families own just one smartphone or even a basic phone, which the parents take with them to work. This made online classes almost impossible.”

But adversity often leads to innovation. “WhatsApp became our lifeline,” he continues. “Teachers and students used it extensively to share notes and homework. And for those students who couldn’t access WhatsApp made the effort to visit the school regularly to write and submit their assignments.”

Like many affordable private schools, Jnana Bharathi, too, grappled with financial uncertainties. But, Venkatesh says that despite the financial storms, their “foresight to maintain a reserve” helped them “navigate through the challenges.”

Achievements

Venkatesh’s face lights up as he talks about the school’s accomplishments. “Every year, our students participate in an event called Pratibha Karanji, consistently shining and winning accolades. Witnessing our students excel not just academically, but also in extracurricular activities, brings immense pride to our institution.”

One particular instance stands out in their journey. “I remember a day during this event,” he recalls with visible emotion, “Padma represented our school, and to our delight, was recognized and honored for her contribution to the field of education. The applause and respect she received in front of educators, peers, students, and parents was a sight to behold.”

As Padma walked through the door that day, the ecstatic leader said, “Today, I truly feel that every effort, every challenge was worth it!”

Matching her emotion, Venkatesh cheered for her and lauded saying, “It’s as if the universe chose the perfect moment to acknowledge your dedication.”

Also Read: How One School Leader’s Adaptive Measures Led To A Surge In Enrollment During The Pandemic

‘Varthana has really brought parivarthan for us’

“When we partnered with Varthana, our school underwent a transformation, or as we say in our native tongue, a ‘parivarthana’,” Venkatesh declares with fervor. He recounts the times he approached various banks for loans, only to be met with closed doors. But Varthana emerged as a superhero for affordable schools. “Initially, when my wife told me about Varthana, I was skeptical. But to my surprise, not only did they provide us with the funding we needed, but they also did so with an unmatched dedication and humility,” he fondly recalls, his voice filled with gratitude.

Looking ahead

As for what the future holds, the school leader duo has an ambitious vision. “We’re keen on incorporating technology into our teaching methods, including computer and projector-based lessons,” Venkatesh shares. “Moreover, as our student body grows, we believe it’s essential to enhance security measures. Hence, we’re considering the installation of CCTV cameras in every room to ensure the safety and well-being of our students.”

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