When Michael Mercer started at Hadlow Preparatory School 31 years ago, naughty students were given the strap and teachers dictated from the front of the class.
A lot has changed since then. With 22 years as headmaster, Mercer has led the Masterton school through some of its most important changes.
He came to Hadlow in 1987 from Medbury School in Christchurch, serving as deputy to principals Kevin Boyce and Allan Russell before earning the top job in 1996.
By this time he had a good understanding of how the school functioned and knew exactly what he wanted to improve.
In 1999, Hadlow made the significant step of transforming itself from being an independent private school to a partially state-funded integrated school.
“When I first came the facilities weren’t as good as they could have been. Integrating made a huge difference because it was then that we had to bring all the buildings up to code.”
Since then, virtually all of the teaching spaces in the school have been demolished and rebuilt.
But it is the transformation of the teaching itself that Mercer is most proud of. For the past seven years the school has been reinventing the way its curriculum is delivered.
Instead of one teacher teaching from the front of the classroom, the school is organised into four hubs, with learning delivered collaboratively.
“We put together a good team of teachers around us who shared the vision,” Mercer said.
Never the authoritarian type of headmaster, Mercer always believed issues could be sorted out in a mature manner without shouting or punitive measures.
Although he remembers dishing out the strap in his early days, he believes the modern attitude to discipline is much more effective.
As a testament to the demand for what Hadlow has offered under Mercer’s leadership, the school has had a full roll of 200 students since 1999, with families queuing up.
At 65, Mercer said it was time to retire as he does not want to fall into comfortable routines and lose energy for the job.
He winds up at the end of term two and will be replaced by Andrew Osmond.
Osmond comes from St George’s independent school in Whanganui where he is currently headmaster.
Though Mercer admits Hadlow has dominated his existence for half of his life, it has all been worthwhile.
“I wanted to make school a happy place, and I made sure our learners wanted to be here. All my efforts have been in the interests of the children,” he said.
He looks forward to putting his feet up and doing some reading, gardening and travel.