When her husband was hit and killed by a train Lynda Hopkin got through the grief with the help of the children and staff at Miramar Community Creche.
The 2007 tragedy left her widowed and her three children without a father but today Hopkin is the Wellington creche's head teacher and she celebrated a milestone after winning an early childhood excellence in teaching award at the National Excellence in Teaching Awards (NEiTA) hosted by education minister Hekia Parata at Parliament's Grand Hall.
Hopkin said she was overwhelmed by the calibre of teachers in this year's awards and said the honour was humbling.
''It's about the creche, the kids, the staff and community spirit - they've created this wonderful atmosphere. It's about providing that passion and I love the kids as if they were my own.''
Hopkin has put in the hard yards in her 16 years at the creche and is known for her team building skills. She was a prime mover in getting a new creche built between 1997 and 2001, a project that has significantly improved the learning experience.
Hastings' Karamu High School principal Martin O'Grady picked up a cognition excellence in leadership for his part in creating a more future-focussed school by overseeing an $8m, 20-classroom rebuild at the decile 4 school.
O'Grady streamlined middle management and reorganised staff into seven faculties each with an assistant and head of faculty. The award was a ''big endorsement'' for the school, which under his five-year watch has boosted opportunities while allowing students to showcase their new skills.
''It's a magnificent campus...it's a lovely place to come and learn,'' O'Grady said.
Springston Primary School principal Liz Weir also picked up a cognition in excellence in leadership award for her part in managing the Canterbury school's recent rapid growth by recognising the need to break up the school into more manageable units and form new management teams.
Frankton Primary School assistant principal Glynis Knox also got a cognition in excellence in leadership award recognising her work on the Hamilton school's Virtues Character Development Programme, which has been picked up by schools in Australia and the United States.
Paeroa College science and biology teacher Tina Youngman was recognised with an excellence in education award for revitalising the Waikato school's Science Department and making the subject more popular than ever.
Since 1996, more than $185,000 has been distributed to NEiTA award recipients in grants for professional development, prizes and endowments.
Nominations for the awards come from grandparents, parents, guardians, school boards, parent associations and community leaders all over the country.
- The Dominion Post