Farewell, dear principal

Garden Village Primary School’s only female principal in its 92-year existence left the school last week, after more than two decades at the helm.

Gillian October (62) bade farewell in an emotional ceremony in the school’s hall on Tuesday 31 July.

The “God-fearing leader” and “wonder woman” retired after serving the school for 43 years. She was principal at the Maitland-based school since 1996, having started as a teacher in 1975.

The school has more than 600 learners, and scores of them joined their teachers, parents, community leaders and education officials in bidding October a moving farewell­.

Inspirational music, celebration and prayer characterised the event, with programme director Kristen Morgendal at one stage performing “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Roger Whittaker, especially for October.

The retiring principal appeared overwhelmed as she listened to the learners and teachers singing the school’s anthem before she received gifts from colleague and acting principal, Lydia Engelbrecht, on behalf of staff and learners.

All her colleagues then took to the stage and, in a creative gesture, brandished pages with a string of adjectives, ranging from compassionate, kind-hearted, gracious and admirable to earnest, remarkable, vibrant and strong, all describing their erstwhile leader.

Speaking on behalf of staff and learners, foundation phase teacher Norma Dennis thanked October for her “exceptional and outstanding” work over the years as a teacher and principal at the school. “I am most certain that when you responded to your calling as principal of this school, you made sure to lay a solid foundation of sound respect, honesty, trust, integrity and transparency,” said Dennis.

She said October’s leadership and guidance were appreciated by all at the school. On a lighter note, Dennis joked about how staff members were yet to see another principal willing to share breakfast and lunch with the rest of the staff.

“You are a strong, energetic leader with great people skills,” she said.

Dennis added that October’s legacy of passion for excellence in education, to empower, inspire and motivate, would be maintained. “Thank you for acknowledging us and our expertise as teachers with our different skills in our classrooms and the respect for each of us. Thank you for the legacy of passion for excellence in education – teach with your heart and not your head,” said Dennis.

An engaging slideshow depicting the history of the school in pictures was played for the audience.

October’s address was one of emotion and gratitude. She thanked everyone, from teachers and learners, past and present, to general staff and the wider Maitland community, for “making my time here pleasant, enjoyable and worthwhile”. “I cannot thank you individually because there are many of you, you are really all appreciated.”

She encouraged the learners to pursue their success and not give up amid challenges. “My message to you is: ‘You can make it, you can be successful because life is not just about successes, there are failures too but you must not give up’,” said October.

Worried about how she would handle being away from the school and her colleagues with whom she interacted in the staff room, she said, as if to console herself, that God would look after her.

She said she would take fond memories with her as she leaves.

Pastor Allistair Trout closed the event with a prayer.