New at the helm - profile of a first-time principal

April 2015


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JUDE BARBACK returns to her old school, Matamata Intermediate, to meet new, first-time principal, Daryl Gibbs.

DarylGibbsThree.jpgThere I am, my 11-year-old self, sitting on the end of the front row in the class photo, marked (gulp) 1993. Years and years of class photos come after mine on the wall, a sharp reminder of just how long it has been since I attended Matamata Intermediate. Several principals have come and gone in that time, and today I am here to meet the school’s new principal, Daryl Gibbs.

Gibbs is new in every sense of the word. New to the school, new to the role of principal, and new to Matamata.

Matamata is a definitive Kiwi town. While there is the usual flux of people coming and going, some families remain in the area for decades. There is a sense that everyone seems to know everyone and everything that is happening in the town. It is no surprise that the arrival of a new principal to the intermediate school is the source of much curiosity.

Gibbs is aware of the intense interest from the community. With the exception of a handful who attend private schools, nearly every child in the wider area will attend Matamata Intermediate. This is in stark contrast to Gibbs’ previous school, Berkley Normal Middle School in Hamilton, which competed with three other nearby intermediate schools for students. Gibbs credits Berkley for his career development and his relatively swift move to a principal’s position. He started as a first-year teacher 12 years ago. By the end of his third year, he was made a team leader; by the end of his fifth, an associate principal, a role he held for seven years. In his last year, he was appointed deputy principal and getting itchy feet for a principal’s role. He didn’t embark on teaching with a view to becoming a principal. Upon finishing secondary school, Gibbs weighed up various career options, among them becoming a joiner, a physiotherapist or a teacher.

“When I asked Dad’s advice, he said to me, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do, but aim to be the best you can be at it’. I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind, and that’s definitely had an impact on my teaching career,” says Gibbs.

Taking advantage of PD

 During the more recent years at Berkley, he had been putting in the groundwork for a principal’s role, taking part in the National Aspiring Principals Programme, and studying towards his master’s in educational leadership. He has two papers to go, and admits these will probably be the hardest two
as he acclimatises to a new role, new school, and a new town, with a young family in tow. He is now on the First-time Principals Programme, a nationwide induction and mentoring programme for new principals delivered in partnership between the Ministry of Education and The University of Auckland Centre for Educational Leadership. All this professional development and support is hugely advantageous, he says. There is, after all, a lot involved with a principal’s role. Gibbs describes it as vastly different from a teacher’s position, owing to its multifaceted nature.

He perceives his strengths as dealing with curriculum and personnel, and his relative weaknesses as the financial, property and legal issues. However, his eight years as a staff
representative of the board of trustees has given him a good grasp on governance matters. And then there are the small things to get usedto about a new school – the bells, timetable, terminology. He says the support from staff has been amazing.

Making a mark

Gibbs seems keen to find the fine line between bulldozing in and changing everything, and putting his own mark on the school. He doesn’t believe in “change for the sake of
change”, and says the school appears to be in good shape and good heart, anyway. 

However, there are a few things he’s keen to address, and top of the list is establishingstronger links with the Māori community. This was apparently key for the board of trustees in making his appointment.

He hopes to broaden the use of te reo Māori and tikanga throughout the school, including staff.

“I was welcomed onto the school with a pōwhiri led by the school’s kapahaka group. My goal is for the whole school to participate in a pōwhiri to welcome the year 6 students, at the end of term 4.” 

He’s also keen to make better use of social media and the school’s website to interact with families and the community. Eager to understand the culture and vision of the school, Gibbs spent much of the first few weeks meeting with staff. He’s also keen to get to know the students. “I like to stand out at the front gate in the mornings so I can meet the kids and their parents, and learn students’ names and faces.”

On the day before our interview he attended a French breakfast, organised by a year 8 class. He likes to stay involved with students through sports and supporting specialised curriculum groups in mathematics and science.

Handling disciplinary issues

Not all his dealings with students have been smooth sailing, however, with two students stood down from school in the first few weeks. Gibbs says while it was unfortunate, it did give the opportunity to show that he was prepared to follow through on disciplinary matters when needed. “When the boys returned, we had a good chat in my office and then we had a game of touch on the field at lunch. I wouldn’t say they’re cured, but hopefully I won’t be standing them down again any time soon!”

Gibbs says the biggest challenge for him will probably be recognising that he can’t do everything. At the moment he is taking a hands-on approach with the curriculum, but he realises that this probably isn’t sustainable. He intends to attend all staff curriculum meetings, mainly to stay involved, but also to indicate the importance he attributes to these
meetings and their outcomes. The school is part of a district writing cluster that looks at what writing should look like at each level. Gibbs says the cluster is providing a good opportunity to build partnerships with the feeder schools.

Similarly, Gibbs sees the importance of building a trusting relationship with neighbouring Matamata College.

We talk about a number of things – National Standards (trying to gain a shared understanding of what the standards look like at each level); the digital technology infrastructure (highly evolved at Matamata Intermediate); boys’ education; what makes an effective learner; and so on. Gibbs is clearly very motivated by learning and education in general.

Advice for up-and-comers

When I ask him for any words of advice to aspiring principals, he thinks carefully.

“You have to be committed to lifelong learning,” he says. “You’ve got to truly love it.” He also says the professional development journey towards becoming a principal is very important. “And it’s important to get the work-family balance right,” he adds. With that, our interview comes to a close, and for a split second, as I leave the principal’s office, I feel 11 years old again. And then I see an actual 11-yearold girl and reality kicks in. Fortunately for her, and her fellow students, I get the feeling Matamata Intermediate is in safe hands.


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