Steve Dunsmore says there are many highlights being principal at Horsham Downs Primary School. But one came quickly to mind when he talked with Home Range magazine.
“One stand-out moment was seeing a little girl who was terrified about starting school.
“She used to come into my office every morning to get a lick from Luna, my puppy. After a while she didn’t need the licks any more. She loves being at school now.”
This is his second year as principal and he says, with community support and great staff, parents and kids, it is not just a good school, but a great one.
“Under the previous principal Phil Missen, we saw it grow in size as Hamilton has developed.”
But as student numbers increased, the country school ethos remained.
“This school has been thriving for decades. We still enjoy whole-school productions, Ag Days, and the family atmosphere that make schools like us tick.”
Steve took on the top job in early 2017, after being principal at Kaipaki School, near Mystery Creek.
“It too is a full-primary country school, but smaller, so there were lots of similarities between Kaipaki and Horsham Downs.
“I still live in Cambridge and thankfully they are building me a new motorway to the school – so I can look forward to an extra 10 minutes in bed in the morning!”
He was born and bred in Bathgate, Scotland, a small town half-way between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
For about 17 years he served in the Royal Air Force as a navigator on Air Transport and Air Refuelling Squadrons which was a diverse and, at times, exciting career.
“I was able to travel the world and get paid at the same time! A few wars and skirmishes were just part of the job description.”
One of the most satisfying roles was as an aircrew instructor at the Navigation Training School. “That involved flying, simulator and classroom work , and I discovered I really enjoyed working with students – hence a shift into teaching.”
With his family, two daughters and former wife, Steve moved to New Zealand in 2003, and began teacher training at Waikato University the following year.
While he doesn’t get the chance to teach much these days, he still loves the special ‘teaching moments’ that occur -“that flash of understanding when a student has been striving to understand something and works it out through sheer grit and determination. When I visit classrooms I see the focus and energy of the class; it is powerful to experience.”
Things seemed much simpler back in the 70s and 80s, he says.
“I started out at school aged four in Scotland then moved to a town near London where nobody understood my accent for about six months. School was all about sports and having fun. We learned the 3 Rs and that’s about all I can remember.
“Compared to today the curriculum is so wide, expectations so high and technology drives everything. It is barely recognisable and the workload on teachers is immense. But the opportunities for learning are superb, especially at Horsham Downs School where a huge effort has been made to keep us at the edge of curriculum advances and use of digital technologies.”
The school is full to the brim, he says. “We have 33 school staff including teachers, admin, learning support and our amazing caretaker Paul. Currently we have almost 430 pupils spread over 15 classes.”
Support from the community is central to its success. “Our active Parents Association raises tens of thousands of dollars every year. Some of this money is about to be ploughed into a substantial upgrade to playground facilities.”
There is huge support for sports – “We have so many teams and the standard of play is amazingly high for a medium-sized school. We receive huge support for in-school activities, learning programmes and external events such as school camps. This is never taken for granted but, added together, it makes our school a high performer.”
Horsham Downs School has a long history of success, he says.
“My role as principal is to work with a fabulous team, maximise the support of the community and implement the strategic direction of the Board to ensure that the next 100 years of the history we are making is as good as the last.”