PATRICIA Hales has never forgotten the empowering mantra recited during her schooling at St Joseph’s College, that ‘Lochinvar girls can do anything’.
But she never imagined she would return to her alma mater as its first female principal in 28 years.
“It’s very much a homecoming and feels surreal in some ways,” Mrs Hales said.
“I feel very comfortable, but at the same time it can be overwhelming to walk past the images of the principals who were here when I was here because I admired those women so much.
“To me as a 13 year old I was in awe of them, because there were so intelligent, educated, strong and really knew what the world was about. Subconsciously I wanted to be like them.”
Mrs Hales has taken the helm at a pivotal moment in the historic school’s history.
It has broken away after 26 years from the All Saints College banner to become its own entity and reopened its doors beyond year 10 to 73 year 11 students, plus 14 new staff members.
Its first Higher School Certificate class will graduate next year.
“There’s still a real sense of excitement in the school that there is this new identity,” she said.
“This school has always been known as a place of academic excellence and I want to build on that – obviously when you bring in year 11 and 12 you’re under the spotlight about what results you’re able to generate and the quality of teaching and learning.
“I want them to always be a people of hope and not afraid to stray beyond their comfort zones.
“The other goal is to have a school that nurtures the faith and spirituality of young people, particularly in a world that is often confronting and challenging.”
The school has 800 students and is expected to reach 1200 in the next five years.
It has refurbished its music facilities and is transforming its old hall into a creative and performing arts centre.
“There will be some conversion of existing buildings that are suitable, but the plan generally is to build another wing of the school that would cater for the growth in numbers.”
As a student, Mrs Hales originally intended to leave St Joseph’s in year 10, but her principal Sister Anita Conroy offered her family assistance to ensure she could stay.
The head of Catholic education later offered her a scholarship and living allowance to study teaching.
She has worked across the diocese and was most recently assistant principal and dean of studies at St Francis Xavier’s College, Hamilton.
“My role today is to honour that [opportunity I was given] and to tell that story to students so they understand there are always possibilities… and if you’re open to them, the world is at your feet.
“Lochinvar students can still do anything and be anything they want.”