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Principal Profile: Rita Petersen, St Joseph’s School, Atherton

In our latest Principal Profile, we speak to Rita Peterson of St Joseph’s School, Atherton, about the contagious energy of the Tablelands school, as well as why the school community is so special and what she hopes to achieve as Principal.

How would you describe the energy at St Joseph’s School?

St Joseph’s community oozes with enthusiasm. The energy felt as you wander the school is contagious. This is seen on the faces of the students and staff each and every day. The smiles, body language and laughter that is evident as you visit classrooms. The enthusiasm felt in discussions about the learning each and every day always brings a feeling of pride in being principal. This energy is not only felt in the classroom, but also on the playground, watching our students interacting with each other, offering support and being inclusive of all in the games they play.

What do you hope to achieve in your role as Principal?

I became a teacher to make a difference in the lives of the students I taught. I became a principal to make a difference in the lives of staff and students under my care. To be a leader is a privilege; working hard to understand, lead and serve the best interests of my school community.

To be a good principal, I believe that you must have a passion for learning, and definitely a passion for kids; in particular, having a joy and love for students and seeing how they grow in their learning each and every day.

Let’s also not forget having a sense of humour… this has always helped me!

What is most special about the St Joseph’s School community?

I often reflect on the many aspects of life at St Joseph’s… so many wonderful things transpire which encompass the many facets of our school community. We have committed teachers who continue to provide the highest quality education, with our students showing growth in their learning. I am fortunate to share in these achievements on a daily basis when I drop into the classrooms, or when students come down to the office to share their successes. I am also very grateful for the many, many hours that our teachers put into preparing and delivering these quality experiences for our students.

We have students who love coming to school, and are involved in so many activities, which not only enhance their learning, but contribute to the development of them as a ‘whole’ person.

Finally, we have parents who freely volunteer their time in so many ways in assisting with various tasks in and out of the classroom, and beyond.

All three facets of our school community working together is what makes St Joseph’s community special.

What are some of the best things about living and working in Atherton?

The Atherton Tableland has so much to offer. The area features a huge variety of landscapes and attractions, from the rainforest to waterfalls, lakes and spectacular National Parks. Here you’ll find scenic vistas at every turn. St Joseph’s community is very friendly and welcoming. From the first day, I’ve felt at home. I also now know why the Atherton Tablelands is considered the food bowl of the north. It’s not unusual for families to drop off produce to our staff room, from avocados to mandarins and even raw peanuts. We are so blessed to have such a wonderful school community.  Finally, let’s not forget Atherton’s daytime temperature… definitely cooler to where I’ve come from!

How did your education shape you to be the person you are today?

Having parents who valued education highly. I was also fortunate enough to have been taught by many passionate and dedicated teachers in my life, which included the Josephites and the Sisters of Mercy. These sisters had a real commitment in bringing together faith and learning in ways that were real and meaningful to our lives, and which ultimately reflected the life and message of Jesus Christ.

What motto, affirmation or prayer do you live by?

In the words of Mary McKillop, “Never see a need without doing something about it!” Taking the time to speak to families, understanding each family’s circumstance, including family pressures or financial concerns and discreetly assisting to lessen their burden, if possible.

Developing and maintaining positive partnerships with my families is very important to me. I often tell people that the most important part of my role as principal is the ‘3 Rs’ – ‘RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS.’

What is the highlight of your career so far?

Having the privilege to develop many wonderful relationships with students, staff and parents. I especially enjoy the opportunity to see the growth in not only our students’ learning but also in our learnings as a staff. Change is a constant in our life. ‘Changes’ in the way we educate, operate and live is constantly thrust upon us. Change for anyone is always challenging and I’m especially proud of seeing our community open to such change. I’m a strong advocate for when we know better, we definitely must do better!

I also believe in creating a safe and happy atmosphere within a school, where making mistakes is a learning opportunity.

Is there anything you’d like to add or highlight?

I love my job, actually it is far more than work for me, it’s my life.  When I do something, I ensure that I give it my all. Life in a school is dynamic and exciting. I love hearing that laughter and feeling that joy as I walk around the school. School is fun, and for me… I have never left. There is no other place I’d rather be!

To find out more, go to St Joseph’s School, Atherton.