School is woven with headmaster's life

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 05:00 28/08/2014
Susan Hassall

HEADMASTER HONOURED: Hamilton Boys’ High School has played a huge part in principal Susan Hassall’s life – the school choir sang at her wedding to a fellow teacher.

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Susan Hassall started at Hamilton Boys' High as a first-year teacher. Now she's headmaster.

And this year she's a finalist in the community section of the Women of Influence awards, which recognise women having an impact beyond their formal roles.

This is Westpac and Fairfax Media's second year of backing the awards.

Hassall is the first and only woman to lead a New Zealand boys' school, a role she has now been in for 15 years.

She said she was humbled and surprised by her finalist status.

"I was very grateful to the parent who nominated me. It was very gracious of her," she said.

"It's nice for education to be recognised as making a difference in the community."

She saw it as an honour for the school, which is a huge part of her life.

Hassall, who began as an English teacher in 1979, has never left the school - "I do love the place".

"I came to Hamilton to start teaching here. I started here for two years and never left," she said.

"Boys I've taught, their sons are now coming through."

It was at Hamilton Boys' that she met husband James Hassall, who still teaches classics there part-time.

When they got married the school choir sang and most of the guests were staff.

"It was a Boys' High wedding," Hassall said.

"Those are special times; that means the school's part of my world."

The couple's twin boys attended Boys' High and finished the year before last. They also have a daughter.

As for being a female at the head of a boys' school, Hassall said it wasn't traditional but she didn't think her gender had much of a bearing.

"Your perspective is as important as your gender, I think.

"I'm a traditional, conservative person who believes in a strong sense of family. If I was a man I'd still feel that."

With more than 30 years at Hamilton Boys', it would be hard to argue with her knowledge of the school history and culture.

Hassall still teaches a year 9 English class and said getting to know the students well was one of the joys of the job.

She has also contributed to the field of gifted and talented education, and in 2011 received a Cognition Education Excellence in Leadership Award from the National Excellence in Teaching Awards Foundation.

The Women of Influence awards cover women helping shape New Zealand and its future across eight categories.

They include board and management, innovation and science, arts, and business entrepreneurs.

The winners will be announced on October 8.

libby.wilson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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