'Treasure' for Collingwood school

CHARLOTTE SQUIRE
Last updated 13:00 18/02/2014

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Hollywood, Bollywood and Wellywood were all labelled "insignificant" yesterday compared to Collingwood, when the first woman to be appointed to the school in its 159-year history took her place as principal.

Dr Janelle McKenzie left Waimea College to take on the job. She was welcomed to the school by a powerful, "hair-raising" performance by the Collingwood Area School kapa haka group, at a powhiri.

Waimea College principal Larry Ching, who took part in the powhiri to hand Mrs McKenzie over from her position as much loved assistant head of Waimea's English department, said: "You look after her or we're coming to take her back."

Mr Ching said students and staff would soon see what was so special about Dr McKenzie.

"She'll treat you all the same regardless of how brainy you are or how much money you have, though if you can fish and would drop her off some snapper occasionally, she might treat you a bit better," he said.

He advised students to keep an eye on her "funny earrings", which came in many shapes and forms depending on the occasion.

Collingwood Area School board of trustees chairman Jason Lockwood said the school would "graciously accept" Waimea College's treasure. He welcomed Dr McKenzie to the Aorere Valley and surrounding areas.

During the powhiri Dr McKenzie said it had been a "very emotional time" for her. She said the hardest thing was looking across to see one of her Waimea College students "in tears".

"I feel honoured to be given away, and more so to be accepted."

Dr McKenzie said she applied for the role in Collingwood because she wanted to extend herself. She was becoming "a bit comfortable" in her position at Waimea College.

"I said to Larry Ching, ‘Am I ready for principalship?'. He said, ‘How big is the school?' and when I told him he said, ‘I think you could do twice as big as that'."

The 50-year-old hails from Whangarei where she had four children. After her marriage "turned to custard" she eventually met her current husband Rod McKenzie, now retired, who also used to be a school principal.

"This is a very special person who I'm married to. He took me on, and four kids," she said.

Dr McKenzie said she and her husband made a bargain when they got married that he would support her through her studies, and at some point "the roles would be reversed". "People look at us now and think, ‘That's a good idea! Why don't we do that?' "

She said her husband would spend his days fishing and enjoying DIY jobs. During her tenure at Collingwood Area School she said her main focus would be the students.

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"All that matters is the kids, nothing else. If you've got the relationship and you're working with them, everything else falls into place."

The new principal said she will be teaching two periods in each of the junior places each week.

"It's really lovely, it keeps you in touch with the kids," said Dr McKenzie.

Mr McKenzie said he was proud of his wife and her history.

"Four kids on the DPB . . . it's quite an inspiring story," he said.

"You cannot do this job by yourself, you need the support systems, including the ones at home."

- Nelson

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