Farewell and great travels, David

David McNair enjoying the winter sun outside school, back in 2011.

AFTER 21 years as principal of Gordonton School, David McNair tells N8N’s Annette Taylor he is  taking up a new position called Life.

“This will involve getting back into golf, tennis, bike riding, walking, singing, playing guitar and perhaps learning basic Greek and Spanish. I’d also like to travel – I’d love to do a rail trip through Europe, I want to see the Iguazu Falls, Machu Picchu, Istanbul and Moscow too.”

When he arrived in Gordonton from Karapiro he only intended staying three years.

“Gordonton School well and truly got into my blood.   I was very lucky to have had quite a number of ducks all in a line. We always had quality staff, a great gene pool of Gordonton parents providing, in general, children who are ready for school. There are always challenges, there are always solutions and I have never, ever, since April 1997 not wanted to come to work. Ever!”

Trained in Palmerston North, he began teaching in New Plymouth at Highlands Intermediate in 1974.  “And just today a parent here at school made a connection with me via a relative I had taught there in 1979. Small world!”

When he started at Gordonton in 1997, the school roll was 138, today it is 260.  Including part-time teachers, aides, office administrator and caretaker, there are 25 staff on-site daily, with 11 full-time classrooms operating.

David McNair early days
A historic, rarely seen photo, probably from the Waikato Times or Hamilton Press.The 90-year-old Komakorau Hall was moved to Gordonton school in 1997. That’s David up front! (Thank you Susan for sending this gem!)

During his time as principal, David has visited schools in New Zealand and in Australia, Canada, England, Singapore and South Africa. “Learning what things collectively made Singapore Number One in the world for mathematics, the incredible manners of the students in South Africa, assessment in the UK – being able to see the wonderful approaches to learning, and taking the best bits of our own school along has been a privilege.”

He is proud of the ‘family feel’ at Gordonton, a result of the Buddy Reading Programme and the school’s values taught to students.   “[these result] in the incredible positive comments about our students when they go on excursions in the public eye and move on the secondary education.”

Academically, he says his greatest achievement is seeing the results from changes introduced over the past three years in mathematics.

“Our students are understanding why something happens, we try and use authentic problems, student learning  is collaborative – it is not about speed – and we firmly believe all students can achieve mathematically. Growing teacher knowledge to improve their teaching has been the key!”

A personal highlight is that ‘unforgettable moment when a student understands a concept… the penny drops! The look on their face is priceless. At that point you know exactly why you got into teaching.”

Seeing students overcoming challenges, achieving goals and taking part in productions or sporting events has all been wonderful, as is watching teachers grow in their teaching crafts.

“Just seeing our school motto ‘Do Your Best’ in action every day.”

He always gets a buzz when coming across a former student.  “Someone you haven’t seen for years, and they come up and talk to you. You must have done something good for this to happen!

“We have had two ex-pupils who have returned in a teaching capacity – Sam Downing and Talia Smith. There are also various parents who were ex-pupils of mine who now have their own children with us – Stacey Voschezang, Awhi Paki, Jaime Bird, Nicole Oud, Cameron Downing.

“A week or so back I had an email from an ex- pupil Dr Sam Illing who is doing two year’s hospital work in Hawera. I was recently invited to the wedding of Steven Bird and Lee Savage, both ex-pupils. That was great.”

There have been challenges along the way, including having to implement Government policy which he didn’t agree with (“National Standards, it had an adverse effect on many students’ self-worth and self-esteem”) and dealing with the bureaucratic nature of the Ministry of Education.

“At times the Boards of Trustees did not understand what their governance role was, wanting to take a more active role in the day-to-day running of the school, which is the principal’s role of management.”

And, some times, there were a few parents who did not realise their child wasn’t always the darling the thought they were.  “There are always two sides to a story.”

But little dampened his enthusiasm for his job or the school.  “Our mission statement is we are a caring school – seeing students living this on a daily basis has been brilliant.”

There will be much that he will miss, including the Gordonton community which has been right behind the school and contributed much in fundraising events over the years.

But it is the school itself which will he will miss the most – and everyone and everything associated with it.

“The morning banter over coffee before school, the camaraderie with our teachers, dropping into classes and working with students. Also the lunch time games with our students – handball, football, shooting hoops –and activity that I can include myself and not be disgraced in!”

David McNair 2018
Addressing an assembly in his penultimate week at Gordonton.


He has some advice for new principle Keith O’Donnell – “Remember that you work to live, not live to work. Get your work/life balance right, and push the positive.”

An ex-police officer, and avid motorcyclist, he says Keith O’Donnell will take the school in new directions.

“I believe our school will be in very good hands and I wish Keith every success in his new role as principal and lead learner of Gordonton School.”

David’s last day is this Friday 13 April.  He promises, absolutely, to stay in touch, even when in exotic, far off climes.

“My association with this school has been for nearly a third of my life. You don’t toss that away in one hit.  The newsletters are all on social media and I’m sure I’ll come out for productions and end-of-year assemblies.

Actually if I’m invited to any event, I will come.”

  • David McNair’s farewell is this Thursday 12 April, 1.30 School Assembly followed by afternoon tea, and an evening event in the school hall from 6.30pm.


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