Jim was a secondary school principal for twenty years. This piece relates memories of what he saw, and sometimes thought about, through the windows of the principal offices in the schools he worked in.
If there were a competition for the school with the best view through the principal’s office window, Opononi Area School would have to be in the running for a prize. It was such a contrast to Atiu College, in the Cook Islands, where I had my first shot at school leadership. There, sitting behind the small table in the cramped principal’s office, I peered through dusty louvre windows at coconut trees, a field of tropical grass and, in the distance, the sagging verandah and peeling walls of neighbouring Atiu Primary School.
At Seddon High School, where I went after Atiu College and after Opononi Area School, a vintage World War two P47 Thunderbolt fighter plane filled the frame of the office window, in perfect line of sight from the principal’s desk. It symbolised for me the battlefield that was my work at that time. At Tangaroa College, my last school, the windows in the principal’s office were too high to offer views from the desk. There was nothing distracting to look at anyway. I sat with my back to the window.
The window in the principal’s office at Opononi Area School was in a class of its own with an expansive pane of glass and a desk perfectly positioned to take in a sweeping view, across a foreground of dunes and sandy beach, up the ribbon of water wedged between Signal Station hill to the south and the sweep of stark white sand hills to the north, and on through the gap between the Hokianga heads to the Tasman Sea. The mood changed daily; dark, brooding and mysterious one day, sparkling and frivolous the next. So much history, too. I imagined Kupe’s waka paddling through the rolling surf, departing Aotearoa, heading back to Hawaiki. I searched for the ghosts of the 499 dead miners, on their way home to China for reburial but shipwrecked on the bar in 1902. Such beauty; such history; such a distraction for a school principal.