An end of an era is coming at Waitaki Girls’ High School as principal Tracy Walker prepares to step down after more than seven years in the role. The experienced educator will take over as principal at Palmerston North Girls’ High School next year, a move she has mixed emotions about. Reporter Daniel Birchfield finds out more.
Q How did you get into teaching?
I come from a family of teachers. So, after getting an arts degree at [Victoria] university and rebelling against thinking I would go teaching, after a few years I thought I would give it a go. I ended up loving it and have stayed. I did my teacher’s training at Palmerston North and I started my career and Whanganui Girls’ College. That was in 1987 and I have been an English teacher all of my career.
Q When the job at Waitaki Girls’ came up, where were you and what was the attraction?
I was deputy principal of Wairarapa College in Masterton and I had been there for eight years. I had been looking to step into principalship and the thing that attracted me about Waitaki was that it was a small school that had a great record already. It had a lovely sense of history about it. I had been to a girls’ high school myself and started my teaching career in a girls’ high school and I had really enjoyed those experiences, so the concept of leading a girls’ school was quite attractive to me. It’s also the school where Janet Frame went, so as an English teacher that interested me.
Q How would you describe your principalship style?
I liken myself to a coach — that I encourage and enable people to get the most out of them, the girls and the staff. I like to see myself as a team builder and an enabler of others.
Q What are some of the highlights of your tenure?
There are lots of highlights. Obviously this year ERO visited and gave us a very strong
endorsement, so that was a very proud moment. All of the very hard work we had been doing was recognised. I’m really proud of the girls’ achievements. I think academically we do well, but also we really punch above our weight in sport and culture. I think a Waitaki girl can go anywhere in the country and really compete, which makes me feel very proud.
I would like to think I’m leaving the school as a more inclusive, diverse landscape where girls can really be whoever they want to be, whether it’s a plumber, a hairdresser, a lawyer … and really celebrate themselves.
Q What makes a great girls’ high school?
The freedom to express yourself. The girls really seem to thrive in seeing all of the leadership roles filled by females. Girls are very collaborative, so they like working in teams and the sort of big sister, little sister mentoring that we really encourage here.
Q What will you miss most about the school?
I will miss the girls and have made some really good friendships with the staff here. Youare only as good as the people who work beside you and I have been very, very privileged to have had some excellent people beside me. I’ll miss the board and our board chair, Susan de Geest. We have always had very strong boards here. It’s really hard to sum it up. I’m really going to miss the Waitaki way. I think we’re a niche school and we reflect our community. Oamaru is a quirky wee town in the South Island … I know I’ll miss it.
Q What are you looking forward about your new role?
As well as the challenge of leading a bigger school, there are 1200 students, there’s also a desire to be closer to some of my whanau who live in the North Island.
Q Have you set any goals for yourself?
It would be to get to know the school community, really. I think the long-term goals will be to continue that journey of excellence and just ensuring all girls can shine.