by ESME O’RAFFERTY

McAuley High School in Ōtāhuhu is set to welcome Jan Waelen back as its new school principal in October, bringing her back to where she began her teaching career almost 25 years ago.

Ms Waelan joined McAuley as a beginning teacher in 1996, becoming head of the mathematics department before leaving in 2001 to take on the position of deputy principal at St Paul’s College in Ponsonby.

She has spent the last five years as the principal at Marcellin College in Epsom.

Ms Waelan said that coming back to McAuley was like “going home” after so many years away.

“Although physically the buildings have changed, it’s still very much a homecoming. There’s still some staff who were there when I was there, there’s also students that are now on staff,” she said.

She said it didn’t feel strange however — quite the opposite.

She said that after being away for a whole generation it would be “really cool” to reconnect with the old girls of the school and their daughters who were now current students.

Her focus as principal will be maintaining the school’s level of achievement as a low decile school, Ms Waelen said.

“It’s also ensuring there’s equity in education . . . making sure we’re equipping the students to be able to hold their place in the community, and that they aren’t disadvantaged,” she said.

She said in some ways it would be interesting for her to come back to working as a principal at an all-girls’ school after working at all-boys’ and coeducational schools for the past 20 years.

“In some ways it’s going to be interesting . . . in terms of that stereotyping that is out there around what girls can and can’t do [in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics], because that doesn’t need to be in a girls’ school,” she said.

“Being able to push them into doing sciences and engineering . . . and whatever they want, it’s a different take.”

Ms Waelen also said she was looking forward to working with the Pasifika community at McAuley to uphold the special character of the school. The school has a predominantly Pasifika roll, with over 80 per cent of students coming from Samoan or Tongan families.

“I’ve been in Pasifika-dominant schools for a long time. I was at St Paul’s before I was here . . . so I’ve been in it for 18 years,” she said. “I love working with Pasifika students . . . they’re just fun. Just to be able to help them, to ensure that the students in my care achieve excellence is really important and it’s something that I’ve really enjoyed doing for the Pasifika community.”

She said that working with Pasifika students was different to working with students from other cultures, especially within Catholic schools, because they were more likely to attend church than their peers.

“The students have remained churched, which I know is a struggle for other schools . . . it changes the environment when you’re actually dealing with students who are strong in their faith,” she said.

“These are the mothers of tomorrow, these are our church leaders, these are our community leaders,” Ms Waelen said.

“McAuley is a fantastic school and is doing a wonderful job of educating our young women . . . that will be my focus, that we continue to have high expectations of them so they can go out into the world, making a difference.”

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