First-day nerves as principals take the lead

With western NSW schools starting back today, we meet some of the new faces taking on the top job in schools across the State. Olivia Grey reports.

A teacher with five ilttle children standing on a red carpet surrounded by balloons
Image: Learning every day: Karina Page welcomes students back for Term One.

As students returned and began school last week they were not the only ones experiencing first-day nerves.

Across the State on Day One, Term One 57 school leaders were starting in the role of principal for the first time.

Between them, the new principals boast decades of experience in helping kids across the State reach their full potential, with many previously working in school-executive roles.

Here we meet some of the class of 2022:

Karina Page, Ellison Public School (Blue Mountains)

Karina Page began her teaching career in 2004 and like many first-timers to the permanent principal’s role has had a range of experience in leadership positions.

“I also spent a term with the NSW School Leadership Institute, where I worked on the development of the School Leadership Identification Framework, which further developed my leadership skills – a great help for my new role as principal this year."

Ms Page said her main goal for 2022 was to ensure every student and staff member improved in some way throughout the year.

“I feel incredibly honoured to be leading such a fantastic team, working together to provide the absolute best education for our students. I’ve had so much support to help prepare me for this role, and I know I’m ready to face the challenges ahead,” Ms Page said.

One of her first tasks as principal was an exciting one; ensuring students had a memorable welcome back to the classroom.

“We arranged a very special welcome, including a balloon-lined red carpet for our students. It was the perfect first day seeing how happy they were to come back to school after last year’s challenges. The students really are the reason I love what I do and the reason I come to work every day,” she said.

Darren Isaacs, Comboyne Public School (Mid North Coast)

For someone who has spent the past two decades working in various roles across early childhood and primary schools, taking on the role as principal at Comboyne Public School was a natural next step in Darren Isaacs’ career.

“I’m really excited, but also ready for a challenge. It’s particularly exciting to meet and welcome students and families to our school and to work with and lead staff. It’s an honour to have so much trust placed in me to successfully ‘run’ a school,” Mr Isaacs said.

While COVID-19 meant there were additional challenges for his preparation for the school year, he said the support measures in place had ensured a safe return to school.

“My staff are extremely well prepared; the Department is working hard to make the return to school as safe and seamless as possible, and I’ve got great support systems behind me to assist where needed,” he said.

Mr Isaacs said there were many opportunities, professionally and personally, in his new role.

“It’s thrilling to have the opportunity to add another chapter to the long history of my amazing school, working closely with my wonderful staff and other school leaders, developing productive relationships with students and their families and becoming entrenched in the Comboyne community,” he said.

“I even love the drive to work – travelling up on to the plateau each day to arrive in one of the most beautifully located schools in NSW is pretty special.”

And for those hoping to emulate his career path, Mr Isaacs said there was a key philosophy underpinning his leadership and teaching style: "Remember, children don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

A woman sitting in a courtyard with an emu sculpture behind her
Image: Following mum's advice: Natalie Plowman

Natalie Plowman Marayong Heights Public School (Western Sydney)

Ms Plowman’s decision to become a teacher can be traced back to her parents. From a young age, her parents stressed the importance of education, and when she decided to pursue teaching after school, Ms Plowman’s mum had one important request – if you’re going to do it, do it well.

It was advice she took on board as Ms Plowman has worked as a teacher, and assistant, deputy and acting principal over the past 25 years.

“I love my job and am so humbled and excited for my new role as principal. I can’t wait to work with the incredible staff to help create a student-centred environment. I want Marayong Heights to be a place the kids want to come to, and a place people want to work in,” Ms Plowman said.

An important part of Ms Plowman’s journey to becoming principal has been leadership courses. Recently, she completed an ‘aspiring principals course’, which exposed her to evidence-based methods of leadership that she hopes will assist in her new role.

“The ability to assist in creating a school of engaged learners is such a privilege. There really is something good in every day working in education, and I think it’s important that we as educators are lifelong learners, and encourage our students to be lifelong learners, too,” she said.

“I’m so excited to tackle this new role and work alongside a fantastic team to help our students be the best people they can be.”

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