HOW do you give up something that you have loved for more than 20 years?
That’s been the hard question in front of Warrnambool College principal Mary Pendergast.
This week the school leader announced her departure after 22 years in the classroom — six of them at the helm as principal.
It’s been a role that came with a lot of stress and a chance to make a difference.
Speaking to The Standard last week, Ms Pendergast says she’s felt the effects of both.
The stress is obvious — when she started she was the fifth principal the school had seen in six years.
With close to 1100 students now filling the school yard each lunchtime, she has been responsible for a population larger than a country town.
“The first year I was here we had to deal with a death and I think what isn’t understood by the larger community is that for schools like us we’re bigger than a small town,” she said.
“You deal with things every day that the broader community deals with. It’s why the connection between the school and the community needs to be stronger.
“We’re well supported by lots of agencies like Brophy or MacKillop or OzChild but it’s not formalised and I think that needs to happen.
“We need Centrelink here. If our rural kids need a healthcare card they shouldn’t have to go down the street and lose two periods to get a card.”
Those are among the views she’ll be taking to her new role with a somewhat longer title — a senior adviser for regional performance and planning with the Department of Education.
Over six years Ms Pendergast has pressed for changes, among them making Warrnambool College a flagship school for indigenous students by actively seeking out new enrolments for indigenous programs.
“We now have around 48 indigenous kids here and they’re a very special group for me.”
“It was a really big thing to see the three indigenous kids come into year 7 and leave at the end of year 12. When they were in year 7 or year 8 no one would have predicted they would have finished year 12.”
But she doesn’t hide the reasons for leaving the workload, stress and health.
“I go in doing 110 per cent and in this job you can’t do that,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s good stress and sometimes it’s tough and I need to manage myself a bit better.”
She flatly denies her car was ever the canvas for toilet paper and shaving cream on a muck-up day morning, claiming muck-up day is no longer a date on the year 12 calendar.
This year will test that statement for acting principal Rohan Keert, who joined the school the same year as Ms Pendergast in 1990.
It’s been an emotional farewell.
A few tears were shed in the school hall last year as she farewelled the year 12 group who began the year she took on the top job.
“You can’t spend 22 years at a school, have your kids go through the school, give your heart and soul and not be sad about going,” she said.