Heading home . Totara School principal Damian Brown has been appointed as the new Papakaio School principal and will take up the role in Term 3. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

Damian Brown’s heart lies at Papakaio School.

So returning to the North Otago primary school as its principal later this year is a dream come true.

On Monday, Mr Brown was announced as the school’s new leader. He will take over from long-serving principal Gary Shirley, who is stepping down at the end of Term 2.

After previously spending five years as deputy principal at Papakaio School, Mr Brown became the principal of Totara School in 2019.

The past two years at Totara had taught him a lot – and he had mixed emotions about leaving – but when the role came up at his old school, it was too good to pass up.

“As a [Totara] community we’ve really achieved some great things for kids over the past two years, but Papakaio is kind of in my DNA,” Mr Brown said.

“It’s a place that started my leadership journey in 2015, and it just feels hugely satisfying and very exciting to return as principal.”

The change allowed him to be a full-time principal. At Totara, he teaches three days a week.

Totara and Papakaio shared many similarities – they were both country schools with supportive communities and the same values.

“I’ve got nothing but aroha for the community at Totara School. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all the Totara staff and parents for their support over the last couple of years.

“It’s a very special place and whoever takes over here will be an extremely lucky principal.”

Mr Brown planned to build on the incredible foundation created by Mr Shirley.

Working alongside the staff and the community in a collaborative way to get the best out of the school was important, he said.

Papakaio School board of trustees chairman Ian Elliott said Mr Brown possessed a natural enthusiasm for nurturing education.

“His biggest strength is an absolute passion for teaching and learning. Ultimately, that’s what a school is about and that really is what shined through with Damian,” Mr Elliott said.

Mr Brown had “big shoes to fill”, but Mr Elliott was confident he was the right man for the job.

“Gary Shirley started at the school in 2007 and he built a good school, connected to the community, and we think Damian’s got all the skills, and will be able to carry that on and build on it.”

The position attracted a high calibre of applicants, leaving the board of trustees in a fortunate position when choosing Mr Shirley’s replacement.

“Each one would have been a wonderful principal, and we had the privilege of choosing one that we thought was the person that would do the best for us – that was pretty exciting, really.”

Mr Brown will start at Papakaio at the start of Term 3.