Profile: Paula Wells Principal of Samuel Marsden Collegiate School

You have just taken up the principal role at Samuel Marsden Collegiate School. What attracted you to the school?

Marsden and I found one another. Marsden was seeking its next leader, and I was warming up to the idea of a new leadership opportunity, but only if the right one presented itself.  It was important to both Marsden and me personally that any successful match would only be made where strong alignment in aspirations, values and ethos existed. Fortunately, we spoke the same language and the relationship was formed in a seemingly organic way.


How would you describe Samuel Marsden Collegiate School?

Marsden is a high-performing school that genuinely cares about every individual. Preparing students for living inspiring lives in all its fulness is our absolute commitment and we support our learners in laying foundations for lives of meaning, accomplishment, and genuine happiness. We deliberately incorporate a scientifically proven positive psychology approach to all that we do and are New Zealand’s first Visible WellbeingTM School, purposefully providing an environment where girls truly flourish and thrive and become their best selves. Our academic results are consistently amongst the highest in the country, yet our greatest joy is sharing in Marsden Old Girls’ successes through and beyond school; trailblazing women with limitless potential, positively contributing to the world in a myriad of inspiring ways. Marsden’s greatest achievement is its contribution to the equality of women in Aotearoa, New Zealand, which is recognised in the cultural fabric of our society.

What do you hope to achieve through your leadership of Samuel Marsden Collegiate School?

My job is to contribute to the Marsden legacy, as have the 12 inspiring, trailblazing leaders before me. I stand on the shoulders of other passionate educators whose Christian ethos has built a culture of inclusiveness and genuine kindness. We are proud, resilient wāhine toa with strong, ground-breaking forbears who have quietly and insistently gone about achieving remarkable things, literally making the world a better place. My role is to harness our history and continually innovate our future to ensure that we remain at the leading edge of education whilst continually breathing life and meaning into who we are as people.

What are your future ambitions for the school?

Marsden has a rich history and a rightly proud and connected alumni who celebrate and cherish the Marsden way. Remaining understated in the relentless pursuit of excellence, whilst appreciating and celebrating the God-given individual gifts and talents of every Marsden student as inspiring taonga is unquestionable. Our strong identity provides the foundation from which we will continually seek to innovate to meet the needs of diverse learners in a student-centric way. Our small class sizes, exceptionally talented staff and quiet and spacious environment nestled in nature combine to provide the perfect backdrop to personalised learning, individual excellence, and multitudinous pathways to inspiring futures.

Describe the pathway your career has followed.

Teaching is a second career, having worked in the banking sector post-university. Naturally drawn to nurturing adolescent girls voluntarily through netball coaching, coupled with a desire to re-connect with another love, English literature, I re-trained as a secondary school English teacher whilst raising our own three children.  I worked in state education, eventually becoming a Deputy Principal for four years prior to taking up the principal’s role at Sacred Heart Girls’ College, New Plymouth where I completed a successful seven-year tenure.  It has been a privilege to have had experience leading in state, state-integrated and now independent schooling sectors. A lifelong learner myself, leading across sectors and understanding a wide variety of educational contexts has been inspiring and invigorating.

Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people who set you on your way to a career in education?

We have all had that one inspirational teacher. The one who spoke to our hearts, was interested in us as people and who brought learning to life in new and interesting ways.  Mine was my sixth form English teacher at Stratford High School in 1986, Vicki McIvor, who much later, serendipitously, I had the privilege of working with at my first teaching post.

How would you describe your leadership philosophy?

Open, transparent, and reciprocally respectful. Deliberately nurturing and harnessing the strengths and leadership attributes of others for the benefit of achieving the shared aims and aspirations of the organisation is of huge importance to me, and it is incredibly rewarding to accompany others on their professional growth trajectories.

Can you share your thoughts about independent education - in New Zealand and internationally?

Having led schools across sectors, my immediate reflection of independent education is the freedom and permissiveness that the environment provides. This autonomy provides the perfect backdrop for creativity and innovation, and clarity of purpose without constant constraints of compliance.  These factors combined are liberating and provide a sense of limitless opportunity and potential.

What do you see as the benefits of working at an independent school?

Clarity of purpose and vision, reassuringly steeped in rich history and tradition, attracts a like-minded, invested community with shared hopes, dreams, and aspirations. It is evident that exceptionally talented and highly professional, committed staff are drawn to independent schools and they are both happy and willing to consistently go the extra mile for the benefit of every learner and colleague. My experience of joining Marsden has been one of feeling welcome, supported, and encouraged to succeed.  The genuine, warm welcome and whanaungatanga has been immediately present, and is testament to the Marsden spirit, the heart of the school, being alive and well.

What do you see as the benefits for students of attending an independent school?

At Marsden, students are individually known and nurtured. Their individual gifts and talents are encouraged, nourished, and celebrated.  This unashamedly high-performing school inspires girls to live lives of meaning, accomplishment, and genuine happiness. Students who attend Marsden are known to go on to do remarkable things and are trailblazers the world over.  They know that when they come to Marsden a future of limitless potential and opportunity awaits them.  That is the enormous benefit of attending this independent school.