Amesbury School principal Urs Cunningham’s first ‘official’ term in charge was “the toughest” she has ever encountered.
The ever-evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic meant things were changing “daily” as her school in the north-Wellington suburb of Churton Park grappled with multiple children and staff being forced to isolate as the Omicron wave took hold.
“It was just exhausting,” she says. “You had to constantly pivot and change your plans. We were down about one-third of our teachers at one point and the staff just adapted.
“It was a strange feeling at the end of the term – it felt like people were literally crawling towards the break.”
The break, however, did all of the school – including herself — some good she says.
People were able to recover and they returned to school this term much more settled and with a: “we got through that, we can deal with anything” attitude.
“It’s very much a ‘bring it on’ mentality right now,” she says. “They all recognised that having to do things differently last term gave them some ideas and approaches to teaching that we can take forward and I’m really keen we don’t let those go.”
While last term was her first as an official principal at the school with just under 300 students, she had spent the previous two years as the acting principal.
Prior to that she was part of the leadership team that opened the school in 2012 so she says she came into the role well aware of the requirements and work demands placed upon principals.
Although there is one thing she’s not sure should be in any principals’ domain.
“I had to work out if the toilets in the junior bathrooms were at the right height for younger students,” she says. “I really don’t know if that’s in my skill set.
“But that is just indicative of the range of tasks we’re required to do as a principal and why we need more support and the ability to hand that type of administrative work off to another group of specialist people.”
Urs – who originally hails from Merseyside and is a fanatic supporter of Liverpool FC – says one of the things that she’s excited about our Te Ao Kei Tua | Creating Our Future campaign is that it is pushing for more support for principals across the board.
“I am doing things I shouldn’t be doing and the campaign will confront those extra work demands, because what I really want is to get back leading the teaching and learning and helping the teachers and students develop,” she says.
“That’s where I should be putting the majority of my time.
“I love the classroom. It is difficult to keep me out of one because I get so much joy interacting with kids.
“I really like watching their relationships with their teachers grow and knowing that I was part of that.
“It’s also great to help teachers develop, because you know that if you help them grow that’s not only a lifetime career for them but it has a positive effect on so many children — I get my joy from that.”
Oh, and Liverpool victories.