‘It made me stronger’

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Anthony Dorreen of Dorie School is in his last week as a principal as term 2 ends.
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Dorie School principal Anthony Dorreen is leaving behind a career that has taken him to hell and back.

The 60-year-old is one of two Mid Canterbury principals signing off this term.

Ashburton Borough School principal Hilary Boyce, 59, is also leaving, as she starts her own business as an educational consultant specialising in diverse learning and behaviour.

Dorreen is semi-retiring after more than 20 years as a principal.

He said Dorie had been the ‘‘most wonderful place’’, with an awesome team, great kids, good trustees, and supportive parents.

However, the job of principals in general was a stressful one, and had become more so in recent years. There had been an increased workload in terms of school management, and the education needs of children were more complex.

Prior to coming to Dorie about 12 years ago, the stresses of being a principal and his personal life proved too much; he had a breakdown.

‘‘I came out of it stronger and more determined to succeed,’’ he said.

‘‘I vowed and declared since then that I would never see a colleague go through what I did. I have a habit of checking in and making sure they are okay.’’

When working as a teacher at Mt Somers Springburn School, he felt strong enough to return to a principal role and applied for the Dorie position.

‘‘I’m grateful to the board of trustees in 2012 who took a chance on me, and since then I have endeavoured to make every post a winner. I love this school.’’

Under his leadership, Dorie School has been rebuilt with new classrooms, and a native forest established on site.

‘‘I think I have given everything that I have got. It was just time for me to go. It’s exciting for the next chapter,’’ Dorreen said of his impending semi-retirement.

‘‘I’m looking forward to slowing down, taking life a lot more easily.’’

He was looking forward to doing some of the great walks, beginning in November with the Old Ghost Road. He also planned to spend time in his garden, pottering around his greenhouse, and next term working three days per week teaching for classroom release.

Meanwhile, Ashburton Borough School principal Hilary Boyce is also leaving her job at the end of this term to start her own business as an educational consultant specialising in diverse learning and behaviour.

Boyce is committed to keeping children in school as the number of school stand downs increases.

The most recent Ministry of Education figures show schools stood down pupils 25,167 times in 2022. It was the highest number in more than 20 years of records.

Stand-downs are the formal removal of a pupil from a school for no more than five days. The figures show rates of more serious punishments – suspensions and exclusions/expulsions – remained similar to or lower than past years.

Boyce said many children stood down were not naughty, but instead had diverse learning needs.

Ashburton Borough principal Hilary Boyce with pupils Oliver Keen, 8, (left) and Israel Faalavaau, 6, in the Discovery Room.

She has seen these needs first-hand at Borough, where about 25 per cent of pupils were affected. They may be autistic, have anxiety or ADHD, have suffered trauma or family upheaval or dysfunction.

And in the years since Covid, financial related issues had increased. Sometimes the school helped provide food parcels to families, and at one time paid for a motel for a homeless family.

‘‘Life is complex for many families and you can’t just park it at the gate.’’

Her passion while at Borough, where she has been principal for six years, has been catering to these children.

‘‘The kids who find school a bit tricky, so how can we make school a bit better for them, and they don’t end up in a situation where they get kicked out?

‘‘We can’t just keep expecting kids to fit a 1950s model,’’ Boyce said.

‘‘If we can keep kids in school, it’s a much better outcome long-term.’’

Under her leadership at Borough, children requiring time out from the classroom were given that, and could learn in quieter spaces, such as the school’s administration building. There they could sit on a couch with a blanket and read their learning materials, or talk to the supportive staff.

‘‘We have a really cohesive team around this philosophy, everyone understands emotions fluctuate in the day and that’s not being naughty.’’

Then there is the Discovery Room, a former classroom specifically adapted for the purpose of learning outside of the classroom.

‘‘Classrooms are busy places and are not the best fit for a lot of children. Coming into a quiet space where there’s no pressure just works to get everyone in the right space, then they can pop into class. What we are trying to do isn’t get to worked up about rules that don’t work.’’

Boyce is excited about her future, working in an area she is most passionate about. She will contract to schools to help them with systems that help children with diverse learning needs.

‘‘I don’t want to get to the end of my career and not have tried something a little bit different,’’ she said.