Headmaster’s prizegiving speech

Teenaa taatou katoa, kua tau mai nei, i teenei raa. Moorena whaanau, Chairman of the Waikato Anglican College Trust Board, Mr Andrew Johnson, staff, parents, supporters and friends of our School, and most importantly, the young men and women who collectively create and enhance the spirit and special character of our school community on a daily basis, it is my privilege to present the 62nd Headmaster’s Report for St Paul’s Collegiate School.

Aided by the sophistication of modern-day technology and the operationalisation of various on-campus Alert Level 3 health and safety measures, we connect together this morning to recognise excellence, acknowledge contribution, and celebrate a myriad of student achievements. While doing so, today also presents an opportunity to pause and consider an academic year spanning eleven months of numerous alert level changes, periods of distance learning, but importantly, plentiful moments of human connection, including countless engaging and meaningful teacher-student interactions, house camaraderie and competition, and numerous extra-curricular and service activities.

To be delivering this, my first Headmaster’s Report, looking out towards a singular camera perched towards the back of this whare karakia, our sacred space that typically is activated and alive with a mixture of laughter, candour, contemplation, and community, is both downright strange and ironical. Strange for obvious reasons, and ironic because it was only just in May this year that my family and I formally entered this chapel and stood, humbled before the full School community, as we were spectacularly welcomed into the incredible St Paul’s whaanau. Today, each of you, our whaanau, join this occasion of celebration from a variety of living rooms, office spaces, and in the case for our senior students here on campus this morning, in common rooms within your respective Houses. Regardless of your physical location currently, I am certain that you will be aware that this Senior Prizegiving is a critical component of our School’s purpose and being; for the pursuit of deeper academic knowledge, the relentless drive to execute acquired skills in both curricular and extra-curricular domains, and the continual challenge to demonstrate grit, perseverance and contribution beyond oneself, are all noble quests that should be publicly endorsed and championed.

I am also certain that our young people need to put the uniqueness of today, and this year, in perspective. Like the majority in Aotearoa New Zealand, I have tuned in daily to consider the latest COVID numbers, the implications to regional and sector restrictions, and sound bites asking us all to be kind. I have asked our young people to be helpful. Focusing on ‘being helpful’ means individuals take accountability for using initiative, for readily assisting others, and for taking responsibility for what they can personally control. ‘Being helpful’ is also concerned with remaining in the present, not seeking to look back to attribute blame, nor too far forward to catastrophise or expend unnecessary energy. Furthermore, ‘being helpful’ is about practising perspective.

Has this year been difficult? Yes, but the digital, distance learning platform operating for St Paul’s students throughout 2021, with its screensharing and virtual breakout room functionality resulted in key curriculum content being accessible for each of our students. Has this year been challenging? Yes, but sporting fixtures, performing arts concerts and productions, two incredibly formative Year 10 Tihoi intakes, service outreach programmes, and vibrant house competitions, have occurred. Certainly, not as many as we all would have wished for, but many none-the-less. And has this year been, to use a colloquial turn of phrase, a street fight? Yes, metaphorical bruises, blood noses and broken bones have been endured. We have seen our liberties to shop, eat and travel whenever we like restricted at times, but individual freedoms are never static nor continually attained without sacrifice.

So, for the young people of St Paul’s in 2021, through the difficulty, the challenge, and the street fight, the enduring message must be a genuine sense of hope and optimism. Our young people have continued to receive education, continued to benefit from community interactions, and have been occasionally home-bound, but not hospitalised. Their futures have not been limited by a past year of uncertainty. Rather, their next chapters can be accounts of further service and success, as they pack their bountiful backpacks, crammed with supportive networks of people, strategies and skills, and they proceed to walk forward with gratitude, recognising the story continues.

Walking towards an uncertain horizon, one that guarantees nothing, is both liberating and scary. To the class of 2021, our Year 13 leavers, superbly led by Head Girl Gretel Muir, Head Boy Matthew Waddell, Deputy Head Girl Caitlin Fladgate and Deputy Head Boy Frazer Tam, I extend the School’s appreciation for the collective talents and contributions of your year group. You have been a cohort who have experienced two senior secondary school years of disruption, yet you have remained stoic and reflective in disposition. If true resiliency is acquired through struggle, this year’s leavers are well-placed to leverage off the adaptable, responsive and solutions-focused mindsets each of you have needed to develop and maintain in recent times. On a personal level, thank you Gretel, Matt, Caitlin and Frazer for not just leading the student body with thoughtfulness, integrity and energy, but moreover, for allowing me, initially an outsider, to understand from your lenses what the very heart of St Paul’s Collegiate is all about. In recognising that 2021 is the end of an era for our Year 13 leavers, it will also stand as a significant year in the School’s history as the 10th Headmaster of St Paul’s Collegiate School, Mr Grant Lander, was farewelled in April, following 11 years of outstanding and unwavering leadership.

To acknowledge the contribution of Grant Lander is no easy task. In the 2010 Collegian publication, the then class of 2010 senior student Sam Hewat wrote of a new Headmaster at the end of Year 1 – “I don’t think there is any chance of Mr Lander putting on the brakes and when you’ve got a handshake like his, why be scared of the future?” He then proceeded to note “Not only has Mr Lander landed, he has dented the soil and hit the ground running.” Today in the heart of our campus stands The Lander Centre. Soil was definitely dented to construct it, but within its walls now live numerous interactive and innovative learning spaces fit for a future of continued high-quality teaching and learning. While a building bearing his name would never have been a remote possibility in Mr Lander’s thinking, given his outwardly focused, selfless manner, it will stand for decades to come as a testament to a much-adored leader who had the vision to place St Paul’s at the forefront of secondary education. On a personal level, I wish to acknowledge Grant and Judith for their care and concern for my family as we transitioned to the Waikato. I am in debt to Grant for his professionalism, goodwill, and willingness to share as I have assumed the role of guardian of this great school moving forward.

For a school to be led and managed by senior staff effectively, a robust and committed Board, with members who bring technical acumen and fierce advocacy on governance matters is essential. We are incredibly fortunate to have a Board full of loyal supporters of our educational philosophy who are each focused on opportunities to enhance our School’s vision of ‘Turning Possibilities into Reality’. To each of these generous individuals, I extend my heartfelt thanks. Of particular note, I wish to acknowledge and thank Board Chairman, Mr Andrew Johnson, for his sharp analytical approach, considered yet ambitious vision, and his strategic nous. His wise counsel and our robust working relationship is truly valued.

St Paul’s is also incredibly fortunate to have a number of critical support groups who allow the School to continue to invest in our people and our places. To the members of the St Paul’s Foundation, energetically led by Mrs Megan Smith, to our proud and growing Collegians Association, led by President Mr Brent Mexted (class of 1986), and to our generous and ever-present Parents’ Association members, led by Mr Matt Snelgrove, our sincere thanks is extended for the various ways in which you partner with and grow the School community, and its wider network, to allow for the advancement of our School’s mission. Having a mission is of little benefit without experienced and enthusiastic individuals to activate it. What provides the students of St Paul’s with the greatest benefit, is the access to outstanding staff who teach, coach, manage, mentor, counsel and encourage, often sacrificing their own time for the betterment of the students in their care. While 2020 saw the advent of distance learning, 2021 has been the year of dual delivery, with staff teaching at times via both face-to-face and remote mediums, alongside the realities of shifting teaching programmes and assessment opportunities on a regular basis as alert level restrictions were altered. At each juncture our staff have responded with flexibility, pragmatism and an abundance of goodwill, placing the interests of students at the forefront of their thinking. I am humbled and grateful for the staff I have the pleasure of leading.

At the conclusion of the 2021 academic year the School will say goodbye to a long-serving teacher, Mr Neil Muirhead. After 23 years of selfless service, Mr Muirhead will end his time at St Paul’s, drawing to a close an enormous and sustained chapter of contribution as an experienced Mathematics teacher, a coach and manager of countless sporting sides across numerous codes, and most notably as a passionate, professional and thoughtful senior pastoral staff member. With close to two decades of active Housemaster or Assistant Housemaster roles at St Paul’s Collegiate, Mr Muirhead is an example of an educator who has seen his role as more than just a job. He will be solely missed.

To the members of the School’s Senior Leadership Team, and to my Executive Assistant Miss Jennifer Purvis, I offer my immense gratitude. As the transition to a new Headmaster occurred and naturally systems have evolved, coupled with the significant disruptions and uncertainty of educating in a COVID-age, I have appreciated the rigor, authenticity, capacity for change, spiritual nourishment and general good humour I have received. As 2022 ushers in a context suitable to complete a full Junior School Curriculum Review, and an opportunity to further consider and confirm a Master Campus Property Plan, we are incredibly well positioned due to our Team’s expertise and vitality. Thank you for your professional leadership and support.

In closing, I wish to thank the wonderful parents of our community for their loyal support of our educational philosophy and practice. And most importantly, I wish to thank my beautiful wife for her comfort, steadfast presence and her love. Nothing about 2021 has been comfortable. But as it was once written:

All of us need to be taken beyond the comfort zone
That is where we find human growth and human authenticity
That is where we find love, justice and community
That is where we find hope for ourselves and our world
That is where we find our God.

May each of you experience a peaceful Christmas and summer, surrounded by love and loved ones. May the Lord bless you and keep you, may his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. Teenaa koutou, teenaa koutou, teenaa taatou katoa.

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