School in shock after head’s sudden death

Dena Coleman

Dena Coleman

Teachers, parents and pupils were in shock this week following the sudden death of one of Britain’s most respected headteachers.

Dena Coleman, the head of Yavneh College in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, died on Tuesday after contracting bacterial meningitis. She was 60.

Dr Coleman had fallen ill at the weekend during a visit to Bournemouth.

Under her leadership, the school was rated “outstanding” by Ofsted and was ranked 7th in the 2011 national GCSE league table of top-performing non-selective state schools.

Dr Coleman, who was due to retire at the end of this term, was described by colleagues as “inspirational” and “loved”.

Stacey Brova, parent of a Year 10 pupil, said: “It is an absolute tragedy. Everyone is in shock.”

Another parent, Jane Johnson, said: “I have never seen kids respond as they did when the email came through from the school about her passing. They were all truly devastated. My daughter just cried all night.”

Pupils expressed their sorrow on Twitter and a Facebook tribute page set up in her honour.

Fifteen-year-old Josh Trapper said Dr Coleman was “a truly intelligent and caring person”. He added: “It is now our job, as students, to do her memory proud.”

Shoshana Rose, a former student, who had been a victim of severe bullying, recalled how Dr Coleman’s care and compassion had helped her during a bleak period when she considered suicide. “She was an exceptional headteacher, role model, mother, friend and I owe her my life,” she said.

Dr Coleman had been a teacher for more than 30 years, including eight years as headteacher at Bushey Meads School and four at Hasmonean High School.

She was the founding head of Yavneh when it was established six years ago.

She combined her teaching work with a role as a trustee of the Jewish National Fund.

Acting headteacher Daniel Marcus said the school would try to carry on as normal with students taking GCSE exams with as little disruption as possible.

He added: “Dena’s vision, in addition to pursuing the highest standards for academic and Jewish education, was simply to place children at the epicentre of everything.”

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks described Dr Coleman as “one of the truly great Jewish educators of our time”.

He said: “Wherever she went, she brought blessing, whatever she did, she brought success.”

Dr Coleman leaves her husband Gordon and two children.

Hundreds are expected to attend her funeral which will take place today [Friday] at Bushey Cemetery.

Last updated: 2:09pm, June 20 2013