David McNair reckons he’s got the best job going.
Principal of Gordonton School these last 14 years, there’s never been a day when he hasn’t wanted to drive from his Hamilton home to the small school on Woodlands Rd.
“There’s a challenge and a joy out here. I’ve got a good bunch of people I work with, a good bunch of kids and parents; I feel very fortunate.”
He says he has a great Parent Teacher Association as well. “They organised and ran the recent art auction, which was fantastic. Every child produces an art work, and local artists donate some pieces, and all this is then auctioned. They raised $6000 in one evening, which will go towards books, computers and the like.”
When he arrived from Karapiro in 1997, he intended to spend three years at the job.
There’s a whole host of reasons he stayed – one of them is that the school kept growing.
“When I started the roll was 138, there will be 233 kids starting the new term on Monday.”
There were six teacher when he began, now there are 10 teachers, not including teacher aids and part timers.
It is, he says, a caring school with strong values. “That’s really noticeable when you see the kids in action around the place. We try to give them an environment in which they can achieve their personal best; I believe we’re doing a good job out here, really.”
He is in a position to know. Over the years he has travelled throughout New Zealand and overseas, including Australia, the UK and South Africa, checking out other schools and their methods.
“It’s part of professional learning, part of keeping on our toes. It all helps in that bank of knowledge that you build up; I always pick something up that can be applied here.”
In a few weeks’ time he’s off to Canada to take part in an international convention of principals in Toronto. He’s also involved in mentoring first-time principals in New Zealand, a process he thoroughly enjoys.
“There’s a tremendous satisfaction from helping. You don’t know how much information is stored in your head until you see someone else beginning out. This system wasn’t in place when I began, and some horrendous mistakes can be made. But you learn.”
Technology keeps on getting better, too. “When I started there were about six desktop computers; they were very proud of that, and quite rightly so. Now there are well over 100 computers in the school, and it makes all the difference in students, especially the older ones, being able to research things almost as they’re happening. Back in the day you’d cut a few things from the newspaper and then wait six months or a year for someone to put a book out. Now the resources are all out there, you can find it, blog it, dig into it.”
Music is a huge part of Gordonton School as well. On his office wall is a painting by local artist Jacquie Haselden showing his students singing Christmas carols at Woodlands, with David McNair playing guitar.
“I was brought up an Open Brethren and my grandfather used to sing very robustly in church. I guess that’s where I learned to naturally harmonise with the lead singer. I can also remember going around the neighbourhood, in Palmerston North, singing for threepences.”
He taught himself how to play guitar by watching his older brother and there was a time early in his career when he was working semi-professionally on musicals.
“I still love music, and have music playing almost all the time around me. I sing with the kids at assemblies on Fridays, and go into the classrooms every now and then to sing as well. I take guitar with about 20 kids each week, ranging from quite capable to keen beginners.”
It’s possibly the only school in the Waikato with a lizard-shaped hill that kids can play on. “We had all this dirt left over from building the staff room a few years ago. One of the dads had a digging business, and he shaped it as a lizard, which was then planted, we put a slide on it, and the kids just love it.”
With the start of the new term comes a new theme for the whole school – habitats and environment.
“I just went across to the classrooms, they’re doing something on Antarctica, and are going to turn the whole room into an igloo. One class is going to become a rain forest, and another one is going to be under the sea.”
Never a dull moment at Gordonton.