From a large school in the centre of Nelson to the small roll in rural Rotoiti, Sue Ford admits there are some big changes coming her way next year when she becomes the new principal of Lake Rotoiti Primary School.
Ever since she was 18 she has wanted to be a teacher, or a vet, “it was one or the other,” says Sue. But, with teachers telling her that her science grades were not good enough and confusion surrounding her university entrance, it was off to a job at the bank.
After travelling overseas and having children, Sue began to ask herself what came next, which happened to be a diploma in veterinary nursing.
“I finished my diploma down here and then I thought, ‘do I want to be doing all the early shift work that I had been doing in New Plymouth’ and I decided ‘no’, then one of the vets there said, “why don’t you go teaching,” and I thought that’s funny, I used to want to do that, so that’s what put me back into teaching,” says Sue.
She completed her teacher training in 2007 and started working at Nelson Intermediate.
She did long-term relief teaching for a few years before a one-year gap where she moved between Nelson Central School and Nelson Intermediate, before getting her permanent position at Nelson Central in 2011.
“What I love is probably the relationships you build with the kids, the fact that one minute you’re doing maths, the next minute you’re getting in and being creative making something for the masked parade,” says Sue.
“I think the other thing I love about teaching is the way that teaching itself is changing. How I used to teach six years ago I don’t teach nowadays, it just keeps you on your toes.”
Throughout her career in teaching, Sue has always been drawn to the aspect of leadership and, after some encouragement from a colleague, began further studies in curriculum leadership.
“I started that in 2012 and finished in 2015 and I absolutely loved all the studies from it,” says Sue. “That really made me think, I’ve got this study now I want to actually put it to good use.”
Having grown up rurally in Bulls and having sent her children to St Joseph’s and Garin College, Sue says she’s familiar with smaller schools, which will certainly come in handy considering Nelson Central has around 450 to 500 pupils, compared to a roll of around 36 in Rotoiti.
Her class size will also be dropping from one of 30, to one of around 16.
“I can remember saying to the kids one time ‘rattle your dags’ and they looked at me in confusion and it dawned on me that these are city kids, they have no idea what ‘rattle your dags’ means.Whereas if I said that out at Lake Rotoiti, they’d know it meant hurry up,” says Sue.
While Sue is excited to get stuck in to her role as principal, she admits there is a lot to learn.
“I think I’ll be bringing enthusiasm and new ideas, but I’m not going out there to make changes,” says Sue.
“It’s not like ‘bang, I need to change this and change that’, I would like to really get out there and get to know what the school’s wanting from me as a principal and where they want to go.”
Former Lake Rotoiti Principal Giles Panting, who led the school as principal for nine years, is currently working as lead advisor for the Ministry of Education’s Communities of Learning.
“I loved being there so much that I stayed longer than I had originally intended,” says Giles. “I hope that Sue finds it as interesting and rewarding an experience as I did.”