by PETER GRACE
New Zealand’s longest-serving secondary school principal, Tom Gerrard of Rosmini College, retires at the end of this year.
Mr Gerrard told NZ Catholic that he began at the North Shore school in Auckland at the beginning of 1976.
He was one of the earliest lay principals to be appointed, if not the first. The Rosminians showed a great deal of courage in appointing him, he said,
“because prior to that most principals were from the orders, including religious”.
The school has grown from a roll of about 500 then to around 1100 now.
In those days, he said, all the assemblies were outside, “so rain, hail or snow, all the boys stood outside with the teachers”.
The college is now full to the brim, Mr Gerrard said. “We are turning away some very, very good boys. But we just don’t have the room.”
When he started there would have been about 17 religious on the staff , including brothers and priests. But slowly and surely they were called to other things.
Mr Gerrard was educated at St Paul’s College and Auckland University.
He began teaching in primary schools, first in Wellington, then Palmerston
He taught at Rosmini College for three years as a teacher of English, geography and physical education. In 1975 he was made deputy principal and
was appointed principal at the beginning of 1976.
Mr Gerrard said that one of the most significant changes during his time was
the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act, which meant Catholic
schools were able to survive.
An interesting facet of that, he said, was that before integration there was a lot of tension between state schools and private schools.
But integration seemed to defuse that. “And people accepted both sides, accepted the value that both were contributing.”
Another big change has been the use of digital technology in education.
Cellphones, iPads, laptops and the like are here to stay. But they also have
“Entertainment is confused with real learning. The art of thinking and participating in meaningful conversation, and the learning of English have, in
my opinion, taken a downward trend.”
Too many people, he said, including students, live in worlds of constant,
instant technology. And he thinks there is a danger that culture and art might
be dragged down.
For many years, Mr Gerrard said, schools were almost exclusively centres
of learning and teaching. Today,though, not only do many groups seem to think a school is fertile ground for their particular philosophy, but schools
are more involved in dealing with the complexities of increasing legislation,
and counselling and welfare work.
“The whole idea of schools has changed,” he said. “I feel they have strayed from the essential goal of teaching and learning.”
He still does his bit for learning. “I teach a bit of philosophy — Descartes,
Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli — and [the boys] love it, they love it.
“It’s important to take your faith and have an open, educated mind. To be
prepared, to look at other ideas and other religions and other cultures in order to deepen our own faith, and not to be put out when you go to university
when you go and hear something derogatory.”
He has witnessed the complete removal of corporal punishment, Mr Gerrard said, “which I think is very much a good thing”.
“However, young people and young men still need firm and clear guidelines, and understanding that means both good and bad have consequences. I believe that schools need to show compassion, and that means not confusing that with weakness. Discipline, especially self discipline, is a necessary component if we are to turn out well rounded young people.”
Mr Gerrard said that one of the best parts of being a principal for a long time is the joy he gets from old boys who have done well. “There are so many. It’s one of the advantages of being in teaching a long time.”
There are two ways of picking out a good school, Mr Gerrard said. “One, if a school is doing well academically; music, drama and [cultural] things are
“Two, and how are the old boys doing 10 years out [from leaving]?”
So, he said, reading a school’s academic results in the newspaper won’t give a true indication of how good the school is. Staff retention at the college
is also high, he said, and 10 out of the teaching staff of 60 are former students. In addition, four ex-Rosmini College teachers are now principals of Catholic secondary schools — Carmel College, Marcellin College, John
Paul College (Rotorua) and Kavanagh
Mr Gerrard was a member of the executive of the Auckland Secondary School Heads’ Association for some year and has often acted as a referee in the
appointment and assessment of principals.
In 1999 he was awarded a Woolf Fisher Fellowship for travel and study overseas.
He coached senior softball and First Fifteen rugby for some years. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 2001 and, in 2012, received an ONZM
(New Zealand Order of Merit) for services to education.
Mr Gerrard said that on his retirement he will do some old boy work, and might do some fundraising. “I might also make myself available for a little bit of
help, advising schools and that kind of thing.”
Tom Gerrard has lived in Chatswood (Birkenhead) for a long time and lists
his interests as reading, philosophy and watching sport, especially rugby.
He has three daughters — Antonia, Michaela and Cassandra — and several grandchildren.