School's out for Milson identity

Last updated 12:00 21/11/2012
FAMILIAR FACES: Milson School’s now-retired principal Barry Eccles catches up with old friends and his replacement, Vanessa Pitt.

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It is out with the old and in with the new - as one of Palmerston North's longest-serving school principals gives his final roll call after more than 40 years in education. Talia Shadwell reports.

Former Milson School head and one-time Manawatu Principals' Association president Barry Eccles has called it a day - the trill of the lunchtime bell has marked his days since he was in schoolboy shorts.

"Since I was five, I have been at school and I thought it is time to see what else is out there."

Education is in the Eccles blood.

Both his parents were teachers.

Before he began at Milson in 1999, Eccles was principal at Cloverlea School for five years.

Before that he was at Newbury School, and his first principal position was at the now-closed country school Rangiotu, where he had taught for seven years.

Eccles took his first Manawatu job as deputy principal at Rongotea School in the 1980s.

He began his teaching career in the Waikato and Hawke's Bay regions.

Now pursuing a retirement as a triathlete, Eccles is one half of a veteran teaching couple bidding farewell to the profession this year.

His wife, Shona Eccles, has retired from more than 25 years of teaching, farewelling her role at Central Normal School at the end of term one this year.

Of the longer-in-the-tooth Palmerston North principals, Eccles thinks only Monrad Intermediate's John Forsyth and College St School's Ross Kennedy have been in the game longer - but three weeks ago he was ready to take his final bow.

"My plan was always that I wanted to finish teaching while I was still fit and well, I didn't want to leave it until I sort of had to retire because I was too old.

"I wanted to get out of there while people still thought I was doing a good job and leave on a positive note."

He has seen primary-school education undergo a number of changes in his time - including the decline of corporal punishment.

The introduction of parent-run boards of trustees in the Tomorrow's Schools overhaul of the late-1990s was the most significant change in his career, Eccles says.

"It meant that basically that schools took over and became more independent.

"That's when boards of trustees started . . . when the BOTs came in they devolved power from the Education Board to the school community, and basically from that time on we were much more independent and could devise our own curriculum, within parameters, of course."

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Milson itself hit the headlines in recent years when Eccles decided to drop the honorifics, allowing the schoolchildren to call their teachers - and their principal - by their first names.

He remains surprised at the level of controversy the move sparked as letter writers to the Manawatu Standard wrung their hands over a lack of "respect" in schools.

"When we introduced it there was a whole lot of furore about it .

"Within a couple of days I didn't see any difference in children who called a teacher by their first name versus those who called them by their surname," Eccles says.

But he would miss the classroom and the special connection between teachers and their pupils he has been working on for the past four decades.

Back on the school grounds for the first time last week, children swamped their former principal, whom they do call Barry, with cuddles and stories.

"One of the things I always enjoyed about teaching was the kids.

"And if I didn't like kids I wouldn't have stayed in the game.

"There are all sorts of kids, a mix of kids.

"But the majority of them are just so neat and they just want time with you."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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