Beloved principal Micheal Jones is preparing to begin a new chapter in his life after more than four decades in the teaching profession.
After replacing his retiring Year 1 teacher as principal at Henschke Primary School in 1987, Mr Jones became the first lay principal at Henschke.
Mr Jones said he is ready to spend more “quality time” with his family and is leaving the school with pride as his dreams of achieving a balanced classroom have been met.
“I learnt through the Presentation Sisters that teaching and learning is really important but also the pastoral care and having fun in classrooms,” he said.
“Children need to be happy and feel comfortable in an environment to be able to learn, it’s not just strict and academic.
“I was given a book yesterday from ex-students at Henschke from 20 to 30 years ago and they’ve all written wonderful messages and I probably didn’t realise I achieved my goal when I first stepped into this role until I read this book.”
From classrooms burning down to being the head to more than 600 students at one stage, Mr Jones has not been exempt from challenges over the course of his teaching career.
“The biggest challenge was when the school have 692 students at one stage and I had an assistant principal for half a day and we worked very hard,” he said.
“I had to read all of the reports myself and they were all hand written, had to be proof-read and handed back to teachers; it was only through the opening of St Joseph’s (1995) and Mater Dei Primary (1990), which took some volume of children away.
“When storms have caused trees to fall onto buildings and vandals have put a hose through classroom windows turning it on over the weekend; these were challenging at the time, but everyone comes together and gets through it.”
Mr Jones said like challenges, both physical and systematic changes have taken place over the years.
“When I first came we had one classroom, which was also the office, the finance area, the sick-bay and the interviewing room,” he said.
“Moving into the current office in 1994 was a huge change, and we’ve also made a lot of landscaping changes as well as a school hall and carpet on the floor.
“I spent the first three years often going to clubs to pull out beer-stained and smelling carpets or from banks that were getting thrown away to put into our classrooms and it often smelt like a club.
“It’s a big change that finance allows us to just call up someone to put new carpet in.”
Mr Jones said the children have remained innocent but technology has also transformed the learning environments.
“I haven’t found parents or children very challenging, I think they’re all here for the right purpose, to learn and also about Jesus,” he said.
“It’s a fairly large school but I pride myself on getting to know the kids, parents, and staff at a fairly close level; their names, interests and what they do on the weekends.”
Mr Jones is confident that he has not come across as a hard-nose principal who spends majority of their time in the office.
“Misconceptions of principals are probably that we just sign papers and don’t really get to know our pupils, the families and the wide community,” he said.
“Sometimes we are forced into the office by government regulations and mandatory things.
“Most of the time we’re out and we love our community, but parents can sometimes come across principals because of the discipline, because at times we have to make a stand.”
Moving into the next phase of his life, Mr Jones said he is “satisfied” and filled with “joy” handing over his role to co-principals for 2019.
“I think the teaching and learning area will continue to progress really well, we’re strong in that area and they’ve got gifts in both the management of the school and also the pastoral care, so I think it will be a really good combination.
“Through research they’ve found that principals of schools this size wear out and don’t continue, that they need a more combined effort.
“I’ve been lucky to have fantastic staff and students and a very supportive wife and that’s why I’ve been able to go on for 40 years as a principal but it’s becoming more demanding and I fully support it.”
The Catholic Diocese has offered Mr Jones two days a week next year to mentor principals throughout the Riverina diocese.
“It’s a really nice gesture by the office and also a way to ease into retirement,” he said.
“I am really involved with working, training and selling Clydesale horses and I’m also looking forward to being able to go to concerts and events.
“I’ve set up a really big veggies patch, which is something I’ve always wanted to get into, it’s 35 metres by seven and I also enjoy singing, so I’d like to join a choir.”
Mr Jones said among his passions he could not have survived 40 years teaching without his supportive family.
“I’ll probably say G’day to my wife, she’s really supportive, we’ve been married for 40 years and I’ve been a principal for 40 years, so it’s a big commitment on her behalf,” he said.
“Also spending quality time with my children and grandchildren.”