By VINNIE RODI
THE end of the current school year will bring with it a bittersweet moment for long-time educator, and Mildura South Primary School principal, Deb Chandler.
Deb will call time on her 31-year teaching career at the end of this year, with 25 of those years spent as a teacher, mentor and principal at Mildura South PS.
While happy to be moving on with the next phase of her life, Deb said the decision to retire has proved difficult.
“Education today, especially in the leadership and principal role, is becoming quite challenging, and while I actually enjoy that aspect of it, the timing is right to retire,” she said.
“I have seen colleagues, not so much here but in the city, who have left their run a bit too late, and at this point in my life I am healthy, and I feel like I’m in a really good space.
“I turn 60 this year, and I always said that when I turned 60 I would reflect on how I was travelling and feeling. I look back and feel like I’ve done a lot in my time, but I also feel that the school is in a good space for someone to come in and look at what’s next.”
Deb has led an incredible career, one that started 31 years ago as a graduate of the Frankston Teaching College. A Melbourne girl, Deb began her career in the Dandenong area, before a marriage to Melbourne policeman Greg Chandler led to a transfer to the South Dudley Primary School in Inverlock.
“In those early years I was following Greg’s Victoria Police career,” Deb said. “In 1986 Greg was transferred to Mildura, which was a very long way to go for a Melbourne girl, especially when all my family was still in Melbourne.
“I initially said to him that I would go to Mildura for three years. We’re still here 31 years later!”
When the Chandlers arrived in Mildura, Deb was on family leave following the birth of her first child, Daniel.
“When my family leave finished, the Department (of Education) organised a school to work at, and I was very fortunate to be appointed to Mildura South Primary School,” Deb said.
Deb officially joined Mildura South PS in 1992, teaching Grade 6 in her first year while spending the majority of her early years working in the senior area of the school.
The appointment of David Aplin as principal, however, proved the catalyst for a major change.
“David was quite visionary around what student needs were, and he gave me a fantastic opportunity to be trained in a whole range of thinking tools and strategies using the DeBono Thinking Methodology and Mind-Mapping,” Deb said.
“I was fascinated by this area of learning. David ‘super-skilled’ me and I became the expert, for want of a better word, on staff, and I trained the staff.
“David used to call it ‘just in time deliveries’– so staff would ring me and ask me to help them with certain areas. In essence I took on an in-house mentor role.”
The practice helped put Mildura South PS on the map.
“We became a school that other schools wanted to visit to look at our programs and how they worked through the school,” Deb said.
Deb soon rose through the school ranks, becoming assistant principal alongside fellow long-time staffer Andrew Wood.
“About 18 months after I became assistant principal David entered early retirement, and the opportunity to become principal came along,” Deb said. “I have to say I wasn’t overly excited about moving into the role, I kind of felt like I was going to lose contact with the kids, with the students my passion and the reason I do this job.
“With some great support from Andrew and other colleagues I took on the role. They actually made a comment that in the position of principal, you can have a real effect on kids and education that goes beyond the classroom.”
Deb has acted as Mildura South PS principal for the past 10 years, and says one of her greatest achievements in the role is forming a partnership between La Trobe University and the Primary Principals Group.
“One of the commitments we made was if La Trobe brought the four-year teaching training to Mildura, then the schools would commit to the pre-service teachers and prioritise them for all future placements,” she said. “Essentially we ensured that teachers studying locally could have a job straight out of university.
“I have teachers at Mildura South today who were once students here, some that I taught myself, and almost three quarters of my staff have trained through La Trobe.”
Deb said that one of the biggest areas of the job she will miss is that connection to students.
“Being an educator is one of the most amazing roles you can take,” she said. “To know that you are impacting on the future, and hopefully inspiring and influencing kids to become great adults and meaningful citizens in the community.
“Many of my, and the school’s, students have gone on to become doctors, solicitors, journalists – all sorts of amazing jobs – not to mention those kids who have stayed in the district and become tradies and valued members of the community.
“I love running into former students. I love that they still want to talk to me. I love that they will cross the street to say hello, and I love that they are bringing their kids to Mildura South because they want the South learning experience.
“I feel like I’ve grown and followed the history of some of these families, and have been lucky enough to have my own two children, not to mention two of my five grand-daughters, come through South.
“It’s a beautiful school, and I’ve been so privileged to work with such inspiring, dedicated and hard working teachers and leaders.”
rguably one of Deb’s greatest achievements is the creation of the annual Mildura Pink Ball, which has been held annually for the past 10 years with the aim of raising money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). So far $300,000 has been raised for NBCF through the initiative.
The 2017 event – the 11th overall – will take place on October 28 at Club Da Vinci, and will carry a racing theme, with tickets and tables still available for those interested. Tickets are available from Mildura South PS for $100, which includes dinner, beer, wine and champagne. More information is available by contacting the school on 5023 2148.
“I’m so proud of what the Pink Ball has become,” Deb said. “I had breast cancer in 2000, and then lost a close girlfriend who was the same age as me in 2004.
“I was struggling a little bit with that, and was thinking what could I do to feel like I was doing something.
“I was in the staff room talking to a group of staff members and said to them that I would love to do a Pink Ball, with all funds raised going to NBCF.
“One of the young teachers said, ‘Well why not?’ and it just went from there.”
The first Pink Ball, held in 2006, raised $8000, with 200 guests supporting the event. Last year’s Pink Ball raised an incredible $51,000, with 440 people filling Club Da Vinci.
“The support we get from local businesses. and those out of town, blows me away, because I know businesses are hit up constantly for fund-raisers,” Deb said. “Breast cancer is something that has affected a lot of people, and I think because of that people become very generous.”
Deb said she is planning to get even more involved with the annual Pink Ball once retirement arrives.
“People have asked me if this will be the last Pink Ball because I’m retiring, and the answer is no way!” she said.