THE week after Rob Higgins got the job as new principal of the Leongatha Primary School, back in 2006, he got another phone call from the Regional Office of the Department of Education.
The new position came with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“I got the job and the very next week, Don Paproth called me and said to me: ‘I’ve got another little job for you to do’.”
It wasn’t so little.
As well as leading a school of some 600 kids and a large complement of staff, he was also tasked with relocating to a new site and building a whole new school.
And as it turned out, he was just the man for the job.
Last Wednesday, March 29, the wonderful contribution that Mr Higgins has made to the Leongatha Primary School was acknowledged at a special school assembly and while there were a couple of ‘well done’ awards as usual and some news about the upcoming trip to China, it was all about Mr Higgins.
Appropriately the event started with the school choir signing a reworked version of Paul Kelly’s ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’, accompanied by Marty Box on guitar, containing some choice references to Mr Higgins’ style as principal such as “…you won’t get too far in my school, if you play the fool…”
While Rob Higgins started his working life as a teacher 41 years ago, including stints at Carrajung, Gormandale, Yinnar, Hazelwood North and Churchill along the way, he noted that he has actually been at school continuously since 1963, so it’s understandable that last Friday’s final day was eagerly anticipated.
Although, that said, he is still leading one final student trip to China, for 18 students and their parents, to Leongatha’s sister school, Changshu Experimental School, before officially heading into retirement.
The final assembly consisted of a series of ‘roasts’ and well-wishes by students, staff, former staff members and his daughter, Jacquie, who is also a teacher.
The school captains put the hard questions to Mr Huggins:
Q1. You’ve made it a fantastic school but what are you going to miss most?
A1. Without a doubt the kids. Coming into work each morning with the kids saying ‘Hi Mr Higgins’, that’s the best part.
Q2. Which student will you miss most?
A2. Mr Higgins dodged instead inserting a few political references: “I’ve got plans, I’m going to build a wall, I’m going to make Leongatha great again…”
Q3. What are you most proud of?
A3. It’s the learning that happens involving all staff members and students. This is a hard-working school. It’s heads down at 9am every day in every classroom. Everyone engaged and involved in learning.
Q4. What are you looking forward to most about retirement?
A4. Sleeping in! But that’s not going to happen. Travelling a bit, starting with the Grade 6 trip to China, then India and the Old Silk Road on the way home. We’ll get the campervan out next year but there’ll also be some work somewhere too.
Q5. What would you have changed if you had your time over again?
A5. Not much really. There would have been a few things I would have changed about the school building project if I had another go and I should have done the reading stuff five years ago.
They presented him with a walking stick, a tie they’d made in the classroom, a bonnet and two books to read in retirement.
A former student, Ally Martin, came back to pay tribute to Mr Higgins’ passion for the HPV program, crediting her experiences there as the most formative of her primary school life.
“None of this would have been possible without your selfless approach to your students.”
Acting principal, Dot Coghlan, spoke on behalf of the staff.
“You’ve worked so hard for this school, for the programs you have put in place, and we thank you for that,” Mrs Coghlan said, revealing that the school had prepared a lasting tribute for Mr Higgins, in the form of a stone and plaque in the school’s Chinese Garden.
The tribute reads: “In recognition of Rob Higgins (principal of LPS 2006-2017) for his tireless work in establishing an ongoing relationship with our sister school Changshu Experimental School, China”.
Mr Higgins in turn paid tribute to the students, their parents and “the best group of teachers I have worked with”.
The event concluded with the cutting of a cake and morning tea in the staff room.
Goodbye Mr Higgins