A growing school

One of the first tasks for Cambridge High’s news headmaster has been to talk about expansion.

Cambridge High School’s new headmaster Greg Thornton (right) pictured with (left to right) the school’s deputy head girl and boy Charlotte Mitchell and Liam Petrie, Head Boy Matthew McHugh and Head Girl Ella Higgins.

In his five years at Sha Tin College in Hong Kong Greg Thornton was required to deal with such issues as removing monkeys from the campus.

In his new role as headmaster at Cambridge High he will be adding, rather than removing.

His new school’s role is around 1600, and as Cambridge expands, so the numbers rise.

The school has recently extended and renovated its Science, Language and Library facilities and now it is looking at increasing classroom numbers.

Plans for this year include renovation work and replacing the present S-Block.

Greg, who hails from Auckland, has arrived in Cambridge with his wife Teresa and two children who are enrolled at Cambridge Middle and Cambridge East schools respectively.

He succeeds Phil McCreery who retired at the end of 2018 having completed 13 years in the role.

The new headmaster shares one significant thing in common with this new board chairman – his surname. Karl Thornton is no relation, though.

Greg Thornton previously served as deputy principal at Mount Aspiring College and taught at Takapuna Grammar, Manurewa High School and Rangitoto College, a school he also went to as a student.

He has formed a strong early impression of his new school, and he was welcomed at the first powhiri at Cambridge High this year.

“It is a fantastic school with some really good staff and students here. I like the way Cambridge High approaches learning, and I think the support from the community is incredible,” he said.

“It’s been a bit of a whirl wind – our container arrived this week with our final bits and pieces from Hong Kong. So, we’re busy unpacking, but it’s home.

“We were really excited about the move back so that made it a lot easier. I think, by being away, you become really clear about what is important as a New Zealander, so I think I’ve come back with a fresh perspective of how good this place is, how well we treat each other, and I feel really enthusiastic about being in a school that does a lot of those things really well.

He is also impressed with Cambridge and sees similarities.

“…the outdoor aspects, really good food, nice people, the town’s got everything you need but it’s easy to get around it. In some ways that’s really similar to what Wanaka was like for us when we were living down there, the town’s got a similar feel to Wanaka.

It’s in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong.

“I was living in an area called Sai Kung. How is it different? I don’t even know where to begin. It’s got a lot of life, it can be loud, it can be crazy, it can be all these sorts of things. We often found that when we came back to holiday in New Zealand, we couldn’t imagine being in Hong Kong, the places were so different, and now that we’re living here, you can’t hold the two together.

“My wife and my boy are determined to give rice a break for a while.”

He has plenty of stories to tell about this previous school.

“There were times, particularly after school, where I would have to go out and chase monkeys off the site, because they would come in and try to raid the bins or steal food off people. There was one occasion when I was setting up for a staff meeting that a big rat snake [a constrictor] dropped down and started spinning around the room trying to find a way out – and it was up on the third floor too. Who knows how it got up there?”

The playing areas were mainly concrete and astroturf, and room was limited.

Greg acknowledged there were high expectations on his role, but he says he’s here for “the long haul”.

“There’s a lot of cool things that I want to be a part of here, there’s a lot of growth and potential in our community… and a lot of stuff that I want to support and build.

“Long term, I can see the town growing, and it’s exciting, but I think that it needs managing. And there’s some things that we’re really proud of in the town and in the school that we want to preserve as we grow.”

Greg is looking forward to engaging with the community and receiving feedback.

“I think it’s important to be approachable particularly as you’re new in the role, and you need to hear and respect a lot of what has gone on before you, but also to hear some things that could update or that you can continue to improve.”

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