The time is right for Preece

Ross Preece
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With the big build project well on the way and the school being in a good place, Ashburton College principal Ross Preece is calling time on his career in education.

He will retire at the end of the year.

Ross has been at the helm of the college for seven years, and a principal for 18 years. Ross’ first principal role was at Murchison Area School for two years, then nine years at Whangamata Area School and in 2017 he started at Ashburton College.

‘‘I turned 65 at the start of last year, you’re always thinking when is a good time to go, so things are settled here, block one will be completed, block two is planned.

‘‘It might have been tempting to stay on and see block two completed, but that may be two years away and I’m thinking the work is done we’re settled, good time to go.’’

Ross said he may still be involved with education. ‘‘There’s things like emergency staffing principal, I’m really enjoying mentoring younger people,’’ he said.

The college building project was in the pipeline before Ross started at the school and has been a big part of his job over the last seven years.

‘‘There was a considerable amount of effort to make sure it went ahead, that was the first hurdle, then it was another three years of planning once we got the approval.

‘‘We had some clear ideas of what we wanted for our learning and our situation and, contrary to popular opinion, the Ministry will actually give you what you ask for.

‘‘Obviously its not finished yet, but basically we’ve got what we asked for.’’

Ross Preece describes Ashburton College as a reflection of the town.

‘‘We are a community school, we’ve got students with every possible advantage and we’ve got students with some disadvantage and everyone in between.

‘‘We’re becoming more ethnically diverse which is again a reflection of the town. It doesn’t matter if it’s sporting, cultural or academic, we do well, and people recognise that.’’

Ross said when it comes to the education system, his biggest worry long term is people are not aspiring to be principals.

‘‘To give you some real life numbers, last year a deputy principal job came up, they had 29 applicants – a good field; two high profile schools in the North Island, both very successful, advertising for a new principal, one had two applicants only, the other had zero.’’

Ross said there were a number of factors why people didn’t want the top job.

‘‘One is the influence of social media and missreporting, all the nonsense that goes on if it’s your turn in the spotlight.

‘‘The media has a narrative to tell, but it may or may not bear any semblance to the facts of the matter.

‘‘The other thing is the Health and Safety Act, when I first signed on you didn’t go to bed thinking, if I’m found guilty of a breach I could go to prison for three years and be eligible for an $800,000 fine and I can’t take out indemnity insurance … why would you risk being a principal?’’

But Ross said he has loved the job. ‘‘To me when you’re a classroom teacher you knew you made a difference to the life of a child, when you’re the principal of the only school in town you actually make a difference to the wellbeing of that town.’’

‘‘I’ve got a very good team here, the thing I’m most proud of is my staff really care about kids achieving and our support staff are fantastic here, we are a community school and my staff reflect that.’’

After he retires Ross plans to stay in Ashburton with his wife.

‘‘Originally we’re from Christchurch, but we don’t want to move back to the big city, we like Ashburton, so we’re quite happy to stay here.’’

Ross will spend his retirement thrashing a ball around golf courses and fishing.