The Principal’s View

17 Sep The Principal’s View

Mr Williams; in my 4 years at Pakuranga College, I have seen him around the school, heard him speak at assemblies and said a passing hello, but I have never really got to know him. I figured it was about time that the greater student body, and myself, learnt a bit more about the man behind the magic.

So, on behalf of The Pakage, I sent an email to every student with a simple question – what do you want to know? It was clear that I was not the only curious one, with over a hundred entries quickly pouring in. With some of the more intriguing questions selected, I sat down with Mr Williams to get some answers.

When you first get to know someone, I find it pays to start with something lighthearted. Many students wanted to know what it was that they had in common with their Principal, particularly when it came to sports. When asked about a favourite sport, Mr Williams replied with “rugby”.

P- “The reason I like rugby is that before it was so professionalised, it was a great sport for anyone and everyone. It didn’t matter how good you were or what your skills were or what your body shape was or if you were fast or slow or what have you, there was always a position in the team for you. You could be a part of a team sport, you could trot out on the field and you could do your stuff, whether you were a winger or a flashy first five or a halfback. You could tell I was a forward because I described them as “flashy”. There was a place for everyone, and I really liked that because of the inclusiveness of it.”

Next up we moved on to the exciting realm of food. Many students were curious about our principal’s stance on one of the most important food groups – ice cream. When asked “what is your favourite flavour of ice cream?”, Mr Williams was as indecisive as most when it comes to this popular dessert.

P – “Ooo, that’s a tricky one. My usual go-to, well I have three main ones. If I can get it, it’s a good quality mocha one, with the coffee flavour in it. Otherwise, a mint one, or a good old fashioned berry ice cream.

H – “All good choices, but why?”

P – “Why are they my favourites? Well, simply put, I’m a coffee addict, I like mint and I like fruit. Don’t like the overly sickly ones.

I’m sure we all have wondered what sole food we would eat if we could choose only one, and it seems Mr Williams has pondered this question too.

P – “I would probably have to choose pizza, because pizza you can cheat and you can have lots of varieties of pizzas, even down to dessert pizzas.”

This leads us to another pizza centric question, specifically around the pineapple on pizza debate. The arguments on this matter have ensued tirelessly for years and can be described by one word – ugly. This tropical fruit has ruined friendships, torn families apart and created a universal divide. Now, we finally know Mr Williams’ stance on the matter.

P – “It is natural if you are having a Hawaiian pizza. It’s natural, it goes well with the flavours.” 

A very controversial claim. Next up, can you ever really know someone without hearing their star sign?

P – “I’m a Virgo! I would have liked to know what readers think my star sign is by how I act.”

We could spend paragraphs unpacking the significance of that. By this point, I was beginning to get to know our principal. However, we had many more topics to cover. Expectedly, the student body was interested in the school itself and what Mr Williams role actually entails. So I asked the most common question of the bunch – in such a busy job, how do you manage your workload?

P – “My wife would say I don’t. I work long hours, I don’t really do anything apart from work. Managing my workload is working with teams, delegating tasks, being realistic about what I can achieve and accepting that I can’t always do things to the level that I would like to be at. Sometimes I have to accept things when they’re not as good as I would have wanted, and sometimes I have to leave projects if I don’t have time to do them.”

Time management and delegation is something every student learns throughout their studies. Mr Williams shows us the real-life applications of these skills; It is clear that Pakuranga College is setting us up for success.

Many students also pondered the aspects of his role that our principal wasn’t so keen on.

P – “I thought about this one a bit. I actually enjoy most of my job, though the workload is a part of my job that I don’t like. I don’t like not being able to do some of the basic bits, and the cool bits like wandering around classrooms seeing what’s going on, which I think is really cool to do, being out there back in with the students. 

That’s a trade-off I’ve had to make because of some of the other parts of my job, parts that I’ve taken on which I have to do on the national front, like being down in Wellington all the time doing stuff there. Those cool pieces are what suffer as a result, and that’s what I don’t like about my job because those things are really important to me. 

The more I’m wandering around the school, popping into classrooms, chatting with teachers and students about their learning, the better the school goes. Some people would say that I don’t need to do it, I have colleagues that ask why I worry about that because my job is not to do that, my job is supposed to sit there and make some plans. but I disagree”

H – “It does seem like a good connection to have.”

P – “I really like to be connected.”

While we have learnt alot about the present, it was now time to look back on Mr Williams past. We delved into his origin story – his days as a teacher.

P – ”I was a physics teacher. Actually, a maths and physics teacher, but physics is where it’s at. I taught right up until I was a principal, and even as a principal I’ve snuck off to the classroom a few times. I probably taught for about 20 years.”

H – “Is there a reason that physics and maths were your favourites?”

P – “Because physics is the essence of the world, it is everything. It is philosophy, it is understanding. Physics is the one true science, it is the one science that talks about all that no one really knows the answers to. If you go back historically to ancient Greek times, the ancient philosophers were the physicists. They asked all the physics questions, the philosophers, as there is an element of mystery in that. I like to remind the chemists that they were actually the alchemists, they were the ones with the trickery and the side-shows, converting led to gold. It was all sorts of trickery because that’s what chemistry is. Biology was really just botany, it was just collecting things. 

There was a great saying by one of New Zealand’s most famous scientists, Ernest Rutherford. Rutherford said, “All science is either physics or stamp collecting”, which is a real dig at the other scientists because they were all very good at cataloguing and categorising things. Physics doesn’t do that. I enjoy physics because it’s about problem-solving.”

H – “I guess it’s the same with mathematics, it’s nice to find peace in knowing things.”

P – “Maths is a predictable tool and it has some artistic strengths, like a big six-page theorem to prove, but I have been bored by maths. Really, maths is a servant to science.”

Needless to say, Mr Williams passion for learning and academics is clearly still present years after he left his role in the classroom.

He goes on to show his care for our curriculum and the way we learn, answering the question “if you could replace one subject with another one, what would go and what would come in?”

P – “I’d replace them all and just teach physics…. but really, I have thought about this one. At first I thought “dumb question”. Then I figured I wouldn’t remove any because taking out a subject would mean that I’m devaluing that body of knowledge. One of the things I think is quite important is that there are multiple bodies of knowledge and who is to say one is better than the other… apart from physics of course, which everyone knows is very important.” 

If we have learnt anything about Mr Willams so far it’s his undeniable love for physics.

P – “As for other subjects, who says dance is not as important as mathematics? Who says music is not as important as calculus? I think it’s one of our challenges as educators to acknowledge that there are multiple bodies of knowledge and they’re all equally important. In Te Reo Maori and the Māori world-view, there are multiple bodies of knowledge that are really significant and important. Who says they’re not more important or just as important than any other area of knowledge. To take a subject out would be to say that body of knowledge isn’t important. 

H – “In that case, is there a subject you think our curriculum could have introduced?”

P – “I think what our curriculum needs is more integration and thinking around how we link things together. In the real world, we actually have to know how to put the pieces together. We don’t treat things in discrete blocks, so there is a challenge in how we develop individual knowledge, like mathematical or scientific thinking which in their own rights are very important, but then integrating them into a single body of knowledge. Seldom in the real world do you do pure science without any maths in it or sole maths. Maths alone has no meaning in the world, its theoretical or an art feature. Things don’t happen in isolation, they happen together, so our challenge as educators is how we develop a way of thinking in a body of knowledge and then how we link each body of knowledge together.”

I came away from this part of the interview with a greater respect for the role Mr Williams plays in our school. The long hours, intricate planning and sacrifice is all done in the name of bettering the student experience. His insight towards the curriculum also shed light on how our school operates to present us with the best learning environment.

However, there is a whole world out there. As teenagers, we already begin to both witness and experience the issues that are prominent in our society. Whether it be discrimination or politics, it was clear our students wanted to hear Mr Williams take on some of the worlds most pressing topics. Our last questions ventured towards some more hard-hitting issues. A specific issue that seemed to garner a lot of curiosity from students was climate change and our principal’s thoughts on the matter.

P – “My stance hasn’t changed.”

This response is referring to how Pakuranga College would not endorse students skipping school to attend the first student strike for climate back in March of 2019.

P – “Last time, when I refused to endorse the movement, I asked a senior student who was going to go off to the march, she was a house leader. I said, “it’s an important issue, what are you hoping to achieve by attending this march?” She said that the goal was for the government to change their policies, so I asked her what she wanted them to do. She thought for a while and then she came back to me and said that she wanted them to ban plastic bags.

I thought that was a good idea, but how was that going to help climate change? She explained to me that plastic bags would get washed out to sea so they’re all in the ocean, but what’s that got to do with climate change I asked her? There were lots of students who were all hot and bothered about climate change when they didn’t really know what it was! It’s not plastic bags going into the ocean.”

This is a common response to the youth climate movement – we are told there isn’t enough specificity. Climate change is a broad subject, and many want to know exactly which aspect we are asking to be tackled.

P – “An element around a lot of the environmental stuff is thinking globally but acting locally. I challenge students by asking what they’re doing. They’re all hot about these environmental issues but are they a part of the environmental council? No? So what are you going to do? Are you going to drive into town and burn all that fuel to walk up a street waving a flag? How’s that going to help the world? 

“My challenge is, while it’s great to see people engaged, are they actually physically active or are they just being pawns for someone else’s game. Running up and down waving a placard, that’s all good, but I don’t want students who are sheep, I want students who are going to change things! What are you going to do about it? It’s all very good to bring attention to an issue, but do something about the issue. That’s one of the issues with these people, they say someone should do something now! When do we want it? Now! I get it, our generation has caused it, you guys are going to have to fix it, but I actually think there are people who could start doing stuff in their lives now.”

This is an excellent point. There is no sense in marching in climate rallies if you still purchase fast fashion or make no effort to recycle, for example. However, none of this negates the importance of raising our generation’s voice. Local change is a piece in the puzzle of climate change, but for our efforts to be meaningful, a shift in global policy is crucial. Regardless, I can acknowledge Mr Williams and the schools differing point of view and not endorsing  students skipping school for this cause. Change can be made in many different ways.

Another important issue our generation has been vocal about this year is the ever-present sexism in our society. Around March, social media saw a wave of information surrounding the “97% statistic”. This number refers to the estimated amount of women worldwide who have experienced sexual harassment and assault throughout their lives. With this issue being as prevalent as ever, some students wanted to hear our principal’s thoughts on the matter and how our school is combatting this.

P: We don’t have a “me too” strategy or a “97%” strategy. I don’t think it’s about our strategy, I think it’s about our mindset and our values and behaviours.”

I think that at this college, we work pretty hard on our values and our inclusivity and how we treat people, and I think that if the world modelled themselves on Pakuranga College then we wouldn’t have anywhere near that sort of problem. It wouldn’t be perfect, because nothing is, we’re all still learning. One of our big strengths is diversity and inclusion, accepting people for who they are. No matter who you are, gender, sex, race, religion, academic ability, disability or whatever it is, we are really accepting. We celebrate diversity. 

I think we have strong, strong stuff around respecting people and treating people properly. You solve a problem by creating the conditions to stop it from flourishing, rather than pouring weedkiller over the weeds. Some people get rid of the weeds by pouring weedkiller everywhere, others nurture their garden to grow great, wonderful plants so that the weeds don’t get a chance to thrive. That’s my analogy.”

This concluded my interview with the principal. I left his office knowing much more about both our school and Mr Williams. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his opinions on a wide variety of matters. At the end of the day, when you take away the title, Mr Williams is no different from us. He is a rugby-loving Virgo with a passion for physics who enjoys a good scoop of mocha ice cream. What more could you ask for in a principal??

by Holly Rowsell – Year 12, Editor of The Pakage

This article talks about issues such as sexual assault that might be triggering for some students. If you need support please reach out to the councillors either in person or online via their Google classroom – fb2qgoq.

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