You are currently viewing Community connection for new principal
School’s in for Lydia Lester, as she begins her new role as Puriri School’s principal. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Community connection for new principal

Outside Puriri School’s office, cheerful cries echo around the grounds – it’s lunchtime and the kids are making the most of a sunny day.

It’s all smiles indoors as well, where new principal Lydia Lester is settling into her office. She’s been in the position since January, and while she’s still finding her feet among the extra admin and paperwork that comes along with the role, she loves being a part of the tiny school community.

“[It’s a] bit of a change but I really love the community feeling here, it’s almost like a big whānau,” she says.

“I went from a school of 120 to this school of 23 students – less than what was in my class last year.”

Lydia has been teaching for 16 years, most recently at Te Aroha’s Elstow-Waihou School. But when the opportunity arose to join the Puriri School team, it was a no-brainer.

“I think it’s really important to serve in your community [but] there’s no point in putting all your effort into someone else’s community. I think that was the missing link with my old school – I absolutely loved working there but it was harder on the weekends to motivate me to travel half an hour to do a working bee or something, whereas here my whānau is here.”

Her family has lived in Puriri for five years, and Lydia is already an active member of the local community – as a parent, with three children attending or formerly attending Puriri School; as a member of the Puriri volunteer fire brigade; and as a player on the Thames women’s football team.

“We lived down Puriri Valley Rd in a caravan for a year and a half while we built, which was an experience in itself, with three boys. We just fell in love with the community as soon as we saw the piece of land – we’ve got the awa (river) down the back and just a really nice, small community which is what we were looking for,” she says.

“I was already a parent in the school which made the transfer a little bit easier because I knew a lot of the families here already.”

The entire student and staffing body are a cozy, tight-knit whānau in this small rural kura. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Lydia has grand plans for the little kura, and she says she was excited to learn the rest of the teaching staff was on the same wavelength as her.

“We’ve all got the same passion for the community and to see these kids grow,” she says. “We came together and everything just gelled really well. It’s a really great team to work with.”

One big project they’re looking at is expanding the school’s Te Kura o Awa river school programme.

“We want to just add to that, develop it further and make sure we’ve got those links with our local iwi and with the curriculum and making sure that some keen learning is happening there,” she says.

“So getting them to have that feeling of mana for their community and kaitiakitanga – guardianship – for our local area. And it’s hands-on, and then we go and talk about, well what’s our next steps, and put it into writing and things like that – so we’re making sure that we’re covering the different curriculum areas.”

“The other thing that I’d love to see is the community use the school a lot more, whether it’s using one of our buildings to have a craft group or something like that. You know, it’s here, let’s use it. It all goes towards building the community,” she adds.

“And it’s great to see kids coming in after school and using the tennis courts. Whether they come to our school or not this is still their community.”

As well as running the school, Lydia will be teaching the combined year 5-8 class three days a week.

“I think you teach from who you are and so relationships [are] really important to me. It’s probably number one. There’s that classic saying: kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Journalism funded by NZ on Air