Principals past get on with their lives

21:23, Aug 12 2014
Jennifer O'Leary
'FULL OF STRESS': Former Branston Intermediate principal Jennifer O'Leary had the added stress of not being able to live in her earthquake-damaged house while also having to deal with the closure of her school.

When the Ministry of Education closed seven Christchurch schools last year, seven principals were left questioning their future. Eight months on, Tina Law talks to them to find out what life is like now. 

People tell Jennifer O'Leary she looks 10 years younger and she feels it.

Lee Walker says his wife tells him he is a much nicer person.

Lee Walker
RELAXING: Linwood Intermediate’s last principal Lee Walker, 63, rides his bike on the Rapaki Track during a period of semi-retirement.

Like most of the former principals neither O'Leary or Walker are principals now. Two still work part-time in education, three have left the profession entirely and only one is still a principal.

O'Leary, the former Branston Intermediate principal, was on holiday in Sydney when The Press talked to her. It is her third overseas trip since being forced into an early retirement and she has more planned.

After teaching for 40 years, the 61-year-old said the past couple of years had been "dreadful" and "full of worry". Not only did she have to deal with the closure of her school, she had the added stress of not being able to live in her earthquake-damaged house since February 2011.


Her house is now being rebuilt and O'Leary is looking forward to doing her garden and furnishing her new home.

"I got rid of all my furniture and most of everything else, so I could start again."

She is working as a volunteer on Wigram MP Megan Woods' election campaign. It is a way for her to repay Woods for the hard work and support she provided during the school's closure.

O'Leary said she was also "seriously concerned" for public education in New Zealand if National was elected for another term. "They will have a mandate to push through even more of their appalling policies and the education system may never recover."

Her views were not "sour grapes". It was "genuine fear", she said.

Walker, Linwood Intermediate School's last principal, describes himself as semi-retired.

The 63-year-old works two days a week with schools in the Linwood and Woolston clusters, helping them raise pupil achievement.

"I was very fortunate that when I finished, another door did open up. It was the right place and the right time."

He spent seven years at Linwood Intermediate and was at Linwood College for 33 years before that.

Walker spent the rest of his days mountain biking, and doing odd jobs around home. Jobs he never had time to do before.

"My wife says I am a much nicer person now.

"I'm certainly not missing the day to day, that daily grind of having to say ‘no' to people for what were perfectly sensible requests that I know would have made a difference to children but there wasn't the finances."

Walker still firmly believed the closure of Linwood Intermediate had nothing to do with education and everything to do with saving money.

"But I've put all that behind me and I'm looking forward."

Another former principal looking ahead, is Richard Chambers. The closure of Manning Intermediate led to the end of a 30-year career in education for the 51-year-old.

Two weeks ago he became the new chief executive of the Haemophilia Foundation of New Zealand.

"I took a wee bit of time to decide what I wanted to do and I decided looking outside of education was a good way to go."

The closure was the third Chambers had been through as a principal - the other two were in North Otago and Invercargill - and he had had enough.

He took that as a sign it was time to use his skills in a different way.

"I'm really excited about what I am doing. I don't see myself rushing to get back [to education]."

Jacqualene Maindonald is the only principal still working in that role, albeit in Auckland.

The former Richmond School principal, aged in her 30s, is principal at Woodhill School in Auckland. She and her husband, Ash, decided a move north was the best option for them and their son. Ash Maindonald, also a school principal, was the first to secure a position and now heads up Western Heights Primary School. Jacqualene Maindonald is now into her second term and is loving it.

She decided to keep being a principal because it gave her the "opportunity to make a difference to teaching and learning within a school".

With only 80 pupils, she was still able to get into the classroom regularly and work at the ground level.

After 25 years at Greenpark School, Andrea Klassen, is now semi-retired. She does some relieving work at Lincoln Primary and volunteer work with the elderly.

The 62-year-old said she was getting past the age where people would consider her as a principal.

"I just think I've done my dash. I just feel like taking things a lot easier now."

Keith Turner, formerly of Kendal School, is travelling and could not be reached and Alison Porteous, formerly of Glenmoor, could not be contacted.



Lee Walker, Linwood Intermediate – working in education part-time and mountain biking

Jennifer O'Leary, Branston Intermediate – travelling, parliamentary campaigner

Andrea Klassen, Greenpark – relief teaching, volunteer worker

Richard Chambers, Manning Intermediate – chief executive

Jacqualene Maindonald, Richmond School – principal

Keith Turner, Kendal School – travelling

Alison Porteous, Glenmoor School – unknown 

The Press