How long have you been at St Mark’s Church School?
This is my second time at St Mark’s. I was first here in 2002 for 5 years as Head of Upper School, Curriculum and Head of Primary. I returned as Principal in October 2011.
How would you describe the school?
St Mark’s is an International Baccalaureate World School, teaching boys and girls from Preschool to Year 8. We celebrated our Centenary in 2017.
St Mark’s is an Anglican school that takes a contemporary yet traditional approach in educating children. We focus on a holistic education with four key components: the academic focus is based on individualised learning; Performing Arts education focuses on all areas of the Arts - music, drama, dance, visual art; Physical Education and Health ensures the health and fitness of our children with PE lessons, sports exchanges and competition, teamwork, and fair play; and our last focus is around the Special Character of our schools, highlighted through our 20 core virtues - including respect, caring, kindness, tolerance, consideration of others and service.
We aim to prepare children for the next step of their educational journey, whether that be preparing Preschoolers for Primary School or preparing Year 8 children for College. We develop well-rounded young people who start secondary school armed with life skills, a love of learning and an understanding that physical wellbeing and the arts are just as important as an academic focus. St Mark’s is inclusive, culturally diverse, family focussed and warm. We are a very happy school and preschool of just over 265 children with a growing roll.
What attracted you to the school?
When the opportunity to return to St Mark’s as the Principal came up, it was an easy decision. From my previous experience, I knew that the school community was very special; this is a place with a real family feel, and this is evident from the way in which families are so deeply involved in their children’s education. The chance to work with fantastic children and amazing staff in an Anglican School, and the opportunity to return to the best capital in the world - Wellington - were all contributing factors.
What do you aim to achieve as Principal?
My main consideration is to foster a family focussed, friendly atmosphere and culture in an Anglican school. By working hard as a community we aim to achieve our vision of St Mark’s as a vibrant, dynamic and joyous community of learners where children and teachers work together to achieve what is needed for their life-long learning journey. Our Board, staff, families and I all want St Mark’s to be a happy, safe and fun place for our children, where they can believe that they can do anything. It is also a place where we grow and develop our staff as teachers and administrators in a friendly, collegial and supportive way.
Tell us about your choice of career as an educator. Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way?
Yes, my PE Teacher at Central Southland College, Mr Alan “Bones” Hamilton; Alan is now the Assistant Principal at Dunstan High School in Alexandra. He was inspirational as he was a great teacher and role model - he taught Science in a way that I understood and was engaged with, he was friendly, a great listener, he had time for everyone and he cared about us. He was also heavily involved in the extra-curricular life of the school, coaching athletics and rugby and taking field trips and camps. Being in his class in Year 10 was the first time I considered teaching as a serious career option. Years later I worked with his brother Alistair, when he was the Director of Sport at St Mark’s. My parents were also very supportive. I was the first person in our family to go to university and my parents encouraged me to follow my heart and attend Teachers College rather than choose another vocation that was closer to home or something that my peers were doing.
Describe the pathway your career has followed.
I trained at the Dunedin College of Education and Otago University, and my first teaching position was at Ruawai Primary School, Northland, teaching Year 1 and 2 children. This was the perfect beginning in a friendly and inclusive rural community with my first professional mentors, Principal Robert Brownlie and Nellie Yelchich, the Deputy Principal. Both shared their pearls of wisdom: the importance of planning well, managing children in class and having a sense of humour. They emphasised to me that I ensured kindness and compassion were always part of my toolkit. From Ruawai I moved to Paremata School in Wellington for 18 months before heading on my OE. At Paremata School I was under Andy White as Principal who taught me how to use classroom assessments to better inform my teaching. Upon returning from the UK I began five wonderful years at Saint Kentigern School in Remuera under Geoff Burgess and Sandra Hastie. They taught me the art of leadership and change and how to be a useful member of the senior management team.
In the early 2000’s we transferred to Wellington where my love for St Mark’s began under Tina Leach, a visionary leader who made things happen and who taught me the importance of being a future focused leader at the same time as being mindful of the present and thankful for our past. After five years we returned to Auckland where I was fortunate to be the Founding Principal of Sunderland School and College, now known as ACG Sunderland. It was a remarkable experience, and highlighted to me that being a Principal is the greatest job in the world. Bruce Tong mentored me and still does today. His valuable insights, calmness and ability to look at things with a sense of reality while achieving great outcomes for children on smaller budgets is wisdom that I call on in my Principal tool kit. When we became part of the ACG group of schools, Clarence van der Wel taught me many things about the approach to financial management that remain with me.
After five years at ACG Sunderland we returned to Wellington for me to take up the position of Principal at St Mark’s, which has been the best seven years for me, both personally and professionally. This is just the most awesome community and my family and I are blessed to be part of it.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I am a servant leader. Demonstrating integrity and acting with it is very important. I am an inclusive person who likes to collaborate, debate and focus on the best interests of the whole while respecting the traditions, the people and values of a school that is 100 years old. I have an open door policy where children, staff, parents, Board members, stakeholders and visitors can come and discuss how much St Mark’s means to them or an idea they have or an issue they would like my input on. I like to think that St Mark’s stakeholders see me as balanced, able to see the big picture, calm, supportive, an active listener and someone who cares about our community and the issues that are important to us, our sector and education in New Zealand.
Can you share your thoughts about independent education - in New Zealand and internationally?
Being an independent school in New Zealand is a great thing. We are fortunate to have access to the ISNZ schools network of other high performing schools we can share quality practice and professional development with. We are a small network and this is our strength. Independent schools in New Zealand are highly staffed with seriously talented educationalists. We have small class sizes, our schools know our families very well, we individualize learning and we are extremely well-resourced. All of this is backed by highly supportive parents.
What encouragement would you give to parents considering a private education for their children?
Talking to the Principal is key for parents in the decision-making process. When meeting with parents considering our school, I like to draw on real life examples of our own four children's time in private schooling, as well as past students who have achieved remarkable things at college, university or professionally. For my own family, our investment in private education has been the best thing we as parents have ever done for our children, as it has established the strong foundations for a love of learning, it reemphasizes our family values on a daily basis and the opportunities inside and outside the classroom are preparing our children for their future. Because of these experiences I know that our children are all balanced and very happy young people. We see children flourishing at school, not just in the classroom but outside as well. Happiness is what we all want for our children and I believe choosing a private education is an investment in present and future happiness. They skip into school in the morning because they are keen to learn, are eager to see their friends and they love their school - and that is a very good thing.