By Jake Beleski
Former Makoura College principal Tom Hullena had no hesitation when asked to identify the highlight of his working career.
Mr Hullena was at Government House in Wellington on Thursday to receive the insignia for becoming a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to education.
He was given the award by new Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, of Greytown.
He said his time at the school was the pinnacle of his achievements.
“Certainly my time at Makoura College was right up there.
“Being part of the team that turned the school around and being part of that community was a real privilege for me.”
He had provided dedicated service to education for over 30 years, but was quick to downplay the magnitude of his contribution.
“I guess I’m not a big fan of fanfare for myself so it was a bit of a ceremony to endure in some ways.
“But you do it to acknowledge your family and co-workers.
“My wife, mother, mother-in-law, daughter and one of my sons are all here as well.”
Mr Hullena spent four years as a lecturer and teacher-educator at Victoria University before being appointed principal at Makoura College in 2009 – which at the time was a low-decile school destined for closure.
He led the school through a period of significant philosophical, cultural and structural innovation.
The result was a student-centred approach to learning and an improved school culture based on care, inclusion, effective relationships, high expectations and personal and social responsibility.
“It was definitely one of the most pleasing journeys of my career and was certainly one of the most challenging in terms of where the school was at a few years ago.”
In 2014 Makoura College was awarded the Prime Ministers Education Excellence Award – the Atakura Award for ‘Excellence in Leading’.
The next stage of his journey was to work out what to do next, Mr Hullena said.
“I’ve been on a short-term contract with the Ministry of Education which will finish at the end of the year.
“Then there will be an opportunity to decide where to next and what the next professional journey will be, as well as where my passions lie.”