Principal awarded certificate of ‘courage’ for strong leadership through Covid-19 crisis

Students of Matahui School awarded their Principal Mary Woods the value certificate of ‘courage’ for her leadership and handling of the Covid-19 crisis. 

Each week the teachers at the school choose a student who has demonstrated one of the school’s core values and this student receives a certificate of acknowledgement at the Friday afternoon assembly. But when the Covid-19 crisis hit the students and parents decided it was their principal who deserved the acknowledgement for her courage and leadership.

From the announcement on March 23 and the immediate move to level 3, followed shortly by a move to level 4, Mrs. Woods and the staff had less than twenty-four hours to get the schools home learning programme up and running. Almost immediately, hard copy packs were provided to students to take home, while staff worked tirelessly to get the online options up and running. These were in place two days later when the country moved to level 4. 

Being the principal of a school is challenging even at the best of times. The role is a constant juggle of the needs of students, parents, Board of Trustees, staff, prospective students and parent enquiries, and a never-ending workload of 40 plus emails each day – without adding something like Covid-19 into the mix.

These were unprecedented times and called for strong leadership and divergent thinking. Mrs. Woods kept staff, the Board and parents regularly updated with information from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education. She held regular Zoom meetings, supported staff with the transition to Seesaw (an online student driven portfolio platform), and integrated two new staff into the team, including the newest teacher Mr. Sharpe who began his fellowship with the school without even meeting his students face-to-face.

Mary Woods and students

Principal Mary Woods with Matahui students

Marketing Manager and Administrator Kristine Aitchison was due to start her new role with the school on March 25, the day New Zealand officially went into lockdown.

“Mary reassured me that my role was important to the future of the school and that when things returned to normal they would be flexible around my start date and working hours. I have a preschooler and it was important to her that my child was settled and safe in his new childcare environment before I started work at the school. For Mary, family came first.”

Many would agree it takes a special person to want to be a principal. Mrs. Woods has been with Matahui School just over a year, and it’s fair to say the role has not been without its challenges. But Mrs. Woods is proud of the way the students, parents and staff showed resilience during these tough times.

“I am proud to be the leader of a teaching staff who provided unwavering support for their students during this unprecedented time. I am proud of our parents and caregivers who were amazing teachers, mentors, mums and dads, guides and councillor’s during lockdown, and I am thankful to have a supportive Board of Trustees who met with me almost weekly during the crisis and helped to make collective decisions for the way forward. But mostly I am proud of our students, for their co-operation and resilience as we adjusted to our new normal. ”