Sacrifice to help pupils

Catholic principal: James McMullan said finding a principal’s job at a small Catholic school in New Zealand was ‘‘as rare as hen’s teeth’’.
Catholic principal: James McMullan said finding a principal’s job at a small Catholic school in New Zealand was ‘‘as rare as hen’s teeth’’.

St Joseph's School's new principal is working unpaid hours so the junior school can afford an extra teacher to focus on core subjects.

Principal James McMullan is sacrificing one day's worth of his allocated administration time per week to instead teach the Picton-based school's year 4 to 8 pupils in the mornings to ensure core subjects such as maths and English are properly covered.

He has also put some of his paid teaching hours, allocated to him through the school from the Ministry of Education, back into the school to enable it to pay a junior teacher to work with the new entrants to year 3 pupils four mornings a week with the school's board of trustees finding extra funding to top up the teacher's wage.

Mr McMullan said it was important that the pupils were able to focus on the core subjects at age-appropriate levels because these were the building blocks for all other education.

As principal, he is allocated two full days to complete administration work outside of teaching but was instead cramming it into one day and working longer hours after school to keep up.

"I just think it's the best thing for the kids and the school.

"We're just seeing how it rolls along and our hope is that it helps to grow the school by making it more attractive to parents looking for small class sizes and dedicated teachers."

Mr McMullan replaced Peter Knowles as principal at the start of the year, shifting from the deputy principal's position at St Patrick's School in Taupo with his wife, Tracy McMullan, and their 9-year-old daughter, Amber.

Finding the opportunity to lead a small Catholic school was "as rare as hen's teeth". He is a devoted Catholic and believes the role of Christianity within a school can bring positive values to the pupils.

"When you've got 220 kids you can know their faces but you don't know them well. Here every kid is like a member of the family."

Amber is one of his new pupils but the pair try to keep school and home life separate.

"It's an interesting thing for both of us, we try to keep it separate but it always comes up. She's a good kid."

His focus so far was on developing the school's access to information technology and wants to take full advantage of "all the tools of the 21st century".

"We're upgrading our existing computers and getting 10 new ones, we'll have 16 in total which means every kid in the school is going to have access to one when they need it."

The family were nervous to move from Taupo, a town of 20,000, to Waikawa Bay but praised the friendliness of the community for helping them to settle in to their new home - he even bought his first boat.

"There's an old saying that goes, the expert in everything started off as a beginner.

"Well, I've never been fishing before - even living by the lake [Taupo] - but me and my daughter are really enjoying it."