School days coming to an end after 40 years

LIFETIME'S WORK: Windsor North Primary School principal Roger Stephenson, who is retiring after 19 years in the job.
LIFETIME'S WORK: Windsor North Primary School principal Roger Stephenson, who is retiring after 19 years in the job.

After four decades in the classroom, Windsor North Primary School principal Roger Stephenson is taking a step back from the chalkboard.

The veteran principal is retiring after 42 years as a teacher, 19 of which he spent at the helm of Windsor North.

But although he is leaving the schoolyard, he is not abandoning children completely, looking forward to spending more time with his 2-year-old grandson. "It feels good. He's just started to talk."

Originally from Dunedin, Mr Stephenson has covered a lot of Southland countryside during his years in the profession. Beginning at Mossburn Primary fresh out of teacher's college in 1970, Mr Stephenson moved through schools in Te Anau, Mimihau, Isla Bank and Bluff, before arriving in Invercargill at Tweedsmuir Junior High and Windsor North, then known as Invercargill North School.

He decided to build a career in education after good experiences during his own school days.

"The teachers I had were interesting and exciting teachers. They did things with the children."

It is an attitude he has carried into his own career, taking care to form a relationship with every pupil under his care. "I've always believed schools are for children and that's the most important thing.

"I always make sure my 5-year-olds have a chance to read to me as their principal. I go down each morning and listen to them reading."

One of the highlights of his career was winning a Southland Primary Principals' Association scholarship in 2003, which allowed him to visit low-decile schools in New York City and see the No Child Left Behind programme in action.

He found schooling in New York to be very regimented and reliant on textbooks, and said many schools had pyschologists and police officers on hand, "just in case".

"There was always a police person in the foyer so that was quite different for a me, a teacher in Southland."

The lack of grassy playing areas in United States schools was also an eye-opener after living in a rural area for so long, he said.

However, despite the differences, the experience had given him a lot to be positive about. "I brought back from the trip the passion and dedication from the teachers.

"The teachers were doing the very best they could for the schools."

As well as fitting in more family time, Mr Stephenson hopes to head to Fiordland for some trout fishing when he retires.

He will finish up at Windsor North Primary tomorrow.

The Southland Times