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Fond farewell . . . Lloyd Bokser with some artwork made for him by children ahead of his farewell from Fenwick School last term. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

After 17 years in the principal’s chair at Fenwick School, Lloyd Bokserretired from his post at the end of the last school term. The school’s first and only principal since South School and Awamoa School amalgamated for the start of the 2001 school year, the 65-year-old leaves with the school in good shape. Oamaru Mailreporter Daniel Birchfieldspoke to him during his final week to reflect on his career.

Q: So, Lloyd, how did you get into teaching to start with?
I didn’t intend to, but it was in the blood. My mother was a teacher here in Oamaru. Initially I was going to go to Lincoln University, funnily enough. I had always liked the country and I always knew I was more of a rural man than a city man. But when I went to varsity, my courses really fell along the lines of education. I just drifted into teaching and realised I loved it.

Project time . . . Mr Bokser spends time with pupils (from left) Gus Genet (6), Thomas Oakes (6) and Blake Emerson (6). PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

Q: Did you have any aspirations back then to be a principal?
I think I did. I liked the lifestyle. My first couple of years teaching, I went to Invercargill, then to Timaru as a teacher and then a senior teacher. I had friends that were getting into principalship, so I went to Timaru in 1977, and in 1982, I went to Hook School near Waimate as principal, so I was a pretty young teacher to take on a principalship. They were great years.

Q: You became principal at Awamoa School in 1990, before the amalgamation with South School in 2000. How did that amalgamation come about?
At the time, it was pretty stressful. We went through the process in 2000 and opened in 2001. It was a case of both schools’ boards of trustees getting together, and the Ministry of Education led it as a process where we gained points for each of the schools, based on a whole lot of factors in terms of convenience, placement, resources, roll – all those sorts of things. We had a weekend at the Brydone Hotel thrashing out how the decision was going to be made and it came down to a vote. Although it was stressful at the time when I had to go back to our community at Awamoa and tell them we were closing, the whole thing was done pretty well, actually, because I’d heard some horror stories of it going wrong at other schools. Both boards were satisfied, because it was actually quite fair.

Q: How did the name Fenwick School come about?
It was named after a local family that had land up on the cape (Wanbrow) there. Rodney Grater, a local historian, came and said, ‘If you’re going to be choosing Fenwick, it better be pronounced Fen-ick.’ Much to the confusion of everyone, after we thought we were going to get it right, we had to turn around and say it’s Fenwick with a silent W. Hence, we stuck with the name.

Q: What do you recall about your first day at Fenwick?
We had an assembly out the front here and we welcomed everybody in and I remember thinking it will be interesting to see the dynamics of what happens .. the kids went off to class and the parents went home and within a day or two you wouldn’t have known it was a new school. Within a few days the schools was humming along.

Q: What have you enjoyed most about your time at Fenwick?
There’s a lot of things, really. I’ve had really good staff and the support of boards and good home and school associations and things. Just a good community, really. After talking to principals in a lot of other centres .. I often come home and say, ‘It’s not too bad here’. The quality of children we’ve got and where we’re going is pretty good. I think the school’s philosophy and values are part of that.

Back in the day . . . Lloyd Bokser at a Mother’s Day event at the former Awamoa school. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Q: Are there any particular highlights?
It was probably how the amalgamation went, seeing the way the communities came together. That was one highlight to look back on after the first year and say, ‘That’s gone pretty well’. I think the other thing was the project we worked on for the new hall. That project was a biggie and a big thing for the new school to say we’re going to get a new hall. We struggled away raising money and I think we raised $350,000, and in 2005, the Government came back with more money so we could finish the hall at that stage. For an $800,000 project, that gave us a real lift. The demolition of the old hall was the last of the old school, really. The school hasn’t stagnated in terms of its appearance and upgrading it has been really good, and the board have supported that. We’ve had good staff, we’ve had good teachers and the board has been vital. It’s been very satisfying in that respect.

Q: What were your thoughts when you arrived at school for your last week?
It’s come around very quickly. I just kept thinking it’s going to be the end of the term and then the holidays. I’ve retired at this point in the year because it actually works going at the end of the third term because when you come to do your handover, the new principal is in place to set his own budget and that sort of thing. It’s a comfort to know that it’s going to carry on. At this stage, it does give that transition time and the incoming principal has a chance to look at how things are going.

Q: Have you had some nice messages from the children?
I have. It’s quite touching. It’s funny how kids perceive things. A teacher said at morning tea time they were talking to their class in assembly, talking about retirement and things, and this child had said, ‘What retirement home is Mr Bokser going to?’ It’s lovely. They really are great kids.

Q: What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the profession?
I think in the past there was more teaching than there was administration. We were accountable, but not so strictly accountable. The other biggest challenge was when the curriculum came out very heavy and very prescribed and it made teaching very hard, as well as trying to keep up with the professional development. The new New Zealand curriculum came out in the early 2000s and it was a breath of fresh air. It took some of that pressure away. Another one is modern learning environments, which are very much in vogue. I really love teaching like that. Teaching styles have changed and yet it still comes back to common sense and good teaching.

Q: Your son Matt has followed you into the profession and is principal at Hampden School. Are you proud of what he’s achieved?
It’s rather neat to go to principals association meetings and sit alongside him. Much to our wives’ disgust we talk shop quite a bit, but he’s doing what I did. The nice thing is the career structure I did, he’s doing too – starting in a small school. I’m also wary of the responsibility he’s got now that I didn’t have. I didn’t get a board of trustees until I was in a three-teacher school. Now, the principals in small country schools have still got that huge management and and administration load that I’ve got here, but I’ve got people to help me and share that. He’s at the stage where he’s a teaching principal. The danger is that you’ve got to watch yourself, really, with the danger of burnout and over-committing. But I’m hugely proud of what he’s doing.

Q: What are your plans in retirement?
The digger is at our home at the moment levelling a plot on the section for our new garage. We’ve shifted house recently and it’s not a new home. It needs renovation and a new garage so it’ll be a lot of outside work. It’ll be a chance to step back and do a bit with my hands and my family, and just catch my breath a bit. I’ll be at my daughter’s wedding in Australia in December so that’s something to look forward to. It’ll be family time, it’ll be up at the lakes time, it’ll be project time – so that doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Q: Any regrets?
I certainly don’t regret being a teacher and the career that I’ve had. It would have been good to have some more family time, but otherwise I don’t think so. I’ve had a very good life. I think teaching’s always going to be in the blood. You don’t just walk away from it. It’s a time where there’s a genuine sadness about leaving a job that you love.