Thirty-seven years ago, Margaret Ellis drove through the gates of Woodford House for the very first time. She was being interviewed for a part-time position as home economics teacher – her first job since having a family and leaving Hastings Girls’ High School where she began her teacher career 10 years earlier.
Although Mrs Ellis had lived in Hawke’s Bay for 10 years, she had never heard of Woodford House until she saw the teacher position advertised in the local newspaper.
“The school was very closed in those days. I remember driving up the long driveway and thinking, ‘my goodness what is this place?’ It didn’t look like a school, it was more like a retreat,” Mrs Ellis says.
In 1981, Mrs Ellis started teaching home economics (now known as food technology) in the old Hodge Boarding House before it was purchased by the Mossman family in 1994. In the 1970s and 80s, home economics was more a life skills course in independent living and how to manage the home. Topics included laundry work, budgeting, how to design and furnish a home and how to look after children.
“We even featured in the local newspaper for using the latest technology in laundering – the automatic washing machine,” Mrs Ellis laughs.
In the span of almost five decades, Mrs Ellis has seen home economics evolve into today’s course of food technology, which focuses on nutrition, societal health and the impact of technology and marketing on food choices.
“The enjoyment and confidence gained in practical cooking remain at the heart of my school programme.”
In addition to teaching, Mrs Ellis stepped into many leadership roles during her time at Woodford House including Dean of Year 9, 10 and 11, staff representative on the Board of Trustees and Dean of International Students – an area of education she is very passionate about.
Mrs Ellis says multiculturalism is the way of the world and we need our girls to be immersed in as many different cultures as possible to equip them for life after Woodford House.
“It has always been my dream for Woodford House to grow its cultural diversity because that is the world our girls will be part of in the future.”
During her 37 years at Woodford House, Mrs Ellis has seen seven Principals come and go, worked through numerous educational philosophies and trends, watched buildings being demolished and rebuilt, celebrated the centenary, supported the school changing from private to state-integrated and helped introduce technology into the curriculum.
But, she says, there are two things that have never changed – her values and the girls’ needs.
“I am no different from the person I was when I first arrived. I still have the same values, beliefs, open mind and work ethic. It’s just the tools of teaching that have changed. The girls are no different to 37 years ago either – they have the same needs, they all want to be valued, cared for, respected and accepted.”
Mrs Ellis says she never wanted to retire and has been waiting for a sign that she should probably move on, but that sign has never happened.
“People have always told me I’ll know when the time is right because I’ll wake up one day and not really want to go to work. Well, that has never happened. I still don’t want to leave this place. I will really miss the girls and the staff.”
Although Mrs Ellis is retiring, she won’t be leaving Woodford House completely as she hopes to return next year as a relief teacher and support for the international students.
As well as helping at school, Mrs Ellis will also give more time to the community charities she volunteers. She is also looking forward to getting stuck into the gardening and spending quality time with her husband and grandchildren.
When asked what her secret to staying in a career for 47 years is, she replied, “Choose a job you love”.
Principal Mrs Julie Peterson says Mrs Ellis is a highly valued member of staff who will be deeply missed by the girls and her colleagues.
“Hundreds of girls have had the privilege of being taught by Mrs Ellis during the past 37 years. Mrs Ellis will proudly leave Woodford House knowing she has made a significant difference to many girls’ lives with her constant optimism, enthusiasm, warm nature and willingness to continuously learn alongside the students.”
“I sincerely wish Mrs Ellis a wonderful retirement that is filled with lots of joyous moments and precious time with family.”
Chloe Johnson, Communications and Development Manager