The first woman to lead one of New Zealand's great rugby boys' schools says she has no intention of competing with her last three predecessors.

Singapore-born Adeline Blair, 49, named on Wednesday as principal of Kelston Boys High School, becomes the first woman to lead any state boys' school in Auckland.

The school's last three heads Sir Graham Henry (1987-96), Stephen Watt (1996-2011) and Brian Evans (2011-17) were all prominent rugby players and coaches.

Blair manages the school's lawn bowls team.

Advertisement

"The past three principals have always been really stalwarts in the rugby world. I can't and I won't compete with that," she said.

"That's them. But what I bring to the school is something that will match what they produced. Now it's my turn to show what I can do for the school."

Former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry, pictured (left) with Steve Hansen in 2015, led Kelston Boys' High School from 1987-96. The school has produced 10 All Blacks. File photo
Former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry, pictured (left) with Steve Hansen in 2015, led Kelston Boys' High School from 1987-96. The school has produced 10 All Blacks. File photo

Born and educated in Singapore, Blair trained as a primary school teacher in Scotland and came to New Zealand with her British husband, who works in information technology, in 1993. The couple have two daughters now aged 24 and 22.

Blair's entire New Zealand teaching career has been at Kelston Boys. She started teaching English for adults in the school's community education division in 1996, and joined the fulltime staff still teaching English as a second language in 2002.

Since then she has taught maths, social studies, geography and tourism, became deputy principal in 2015 and acting principal after Evans left to head Wesley College in January.

Brian Evans (centre), principal from 2011-17, is a former coach of the Black Ferns and coached Kelston Boys' First XV before moving to Wesley College. File photo
Brian Evans (centre), principal from 2011-17, is a former coach of the Black Ferns and coached Kelston Boys' First XV before moving to Wesley College. File photo

Asked about her other interests, she said: "My school is my community. I devote a lot of my time to extracurricular stuff, helping with the homework centre, helping sports teams."

The Board of Trustees, staff and students at Kelston Boys High School would like to congratulate Mrs Adeline Blair on...

Posted by Kelston Boys' High School on Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The board chose her to keep the top job from a field of nine applicants and its announcement on Facebook has drawn an outpouring of emotion.

Former student Daniel Tuala posted: "Wow congratulations ms!!! Mrs Blair was the best tourism teacher i ever had. Always wanted the best out of us boys. And She had jokes too."

Another former student Cam Webster said: "Congrats Ms Blair! Youre an awesome, considerate and fair person."

Like other West Auckland schools, Kelston Boys has lost students to richer central Auckland schools since schools became self-managing in 1989. Its roll slid gently from a peak of 1250 in the 1980s to 1100 in 2010, and has since plunged to 662.

European students have abandoned the school, dropping from 371 in the year 2000 to 42 last month. Most students are now Pasifika (62 per cent) or Māori (19 per cent).

However Blair said this year's Year 9 intake was higher than last year's, and West Auckland's growing primary school rolls pointed to Kelston Boys' roll growing again from here.

The Education Review Office reported in 2015 that the school's pass rates in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) surpassed the national average, with both Pasifika and Māori students "achieving well above national averages".

Adeline Blair becomes one of only four women leading NZ boys' schools. Photo / Doug Sherring
Adeline Blair becomes one of only four women leading NZ boys' schools. Photo / Doug Sherring

Blair becomes one of only four women leading NZ boys' schools, joining Susan Hassall at Hamilton Boys' High School, Karen Gilbert-Smith at Whangarei Boys' High School and Deborah Marshall-Lobb at Northcote's Hato Petera College, where the roll has recently dwindled to 11.

Hassall said it was "unheard-of" for a woman to lead a boys' school when she became headmaster 19 years ago, but her students now "don't see it as anything unusual".

"You can create an argument for it because women are very openly caring and that is more acceptable from a female. I think you can 'gentle' a school, while at the same time maintaining the discipline that is required," she said.

The sole male principal of a New Zealand girls' school, Stephen Bryan, said he was seen as an "oddity" when he took the helm at Sacred Heart College in Napier 12 years ago. He now leads St Catherine's College in Wellington and believes attitudes are changing.

"It's about leading a school through role-modelling good citizenship and ensuring that the best outcomes are put in place for the school community you serve."