Geoff Opie has packed his school lunch for 62 years as he transitioned from a pupil to principal.

But Otumoetai Primary School's principal of 16 years will now put away his lunchbox as he bows out after a 45-year career.

"It has been a great career, but 45 years of school lunches is probably enough," Opie says, jokingly.

"I am 67 this year so by the end of the year it will be 62 years of school lunches if I started at 5."


Opie's last day at Otumoetai will be January 27 next year when he will hand over the reins to deputy principal Zara McIndoe.

"It has been an incredibly satisfying career," Opie says. "After 45 years I still love coming to work every day."


His longest time in one spot has been Otumoetai Primary and Opie still remembers his first steps in the office where he would spend the next 16 years.

"It was the day before the first day when I met with the last principal here. I hadn't met him before. That was quite surreal," he said.

"I came into an environment that was pretty full on. ''

There is also a sense of pride, looking back on his time in the role.

"There is the sense of the enormity of the job but also the privilege to actually have been given the job to work within this community," Opie says.

"It has been a real honour. For me, it is a God-given privilege."


Opie distinctly remembers the principal's chair tucked behind the desk.

"The first thing I thought was what a grandiose chair," he says. "It was a really flash, black leather chair. I thought that is more like a throne than a chair. So that didn't last too long."

He has been through three chairs during his tenure at the school. Above his current chair, a simple black, swivel low-back affair, is a framed picture of a cartoon duck sitting on a chair.

"That's my sitting duck," Opie says. "As a principal you can be a sitting duck. That is where the buck stops. It can be a challenging place at times but there is nothing too big or too small that we can't work out."


Opie has seen many changes during his career which spans more than four decades.

"The community has changed markedly. We are far more multi-ethnic than we ever have been. That has quite literally brought a colour to our community which is very healthy," he says,

"I think our community is all the better for that. We have that diversity now which is something we probably didn't have so much 16 years ago."

Opie has also seen major investment in the building of new playgrounds and a subtle adoption of a growth mindset within the school.

"It has changed quite a bit of practice among teachers with the idea that tomorrow's a new day and a new opportunity," he says.

"I think across the school we have adopted a pretty holistic approach to the kids being the heart of the matter."


During his time, Opie has also adopted a number of hats which sit neatly on a shelf above his desk - a sun hat, straw hat, St John Ambulance helmet, and an orange hard hat with B.O.B on the front.

"That was when we had a dress-up day and I thought I would go as Bob the Builder," Opie says, jokingly.

But he will have to hand over his hats as he closes the door on a 45-year career to spend more time with his 13 grandchildren and tour the South Island in his campervan.

The hat collection will multiply when it is added to new principal Zara McIndoe's dress-ups currently occupying a large shelf in her office.

From leopard print cowboy hats to a witch's hat and fluffy pink feather boas - the children have plenty to chose from if they ever forget their costume on school dress-up days, McIndoe says.

McIndoe has been deputy principal for almost 10 years and, as reported in the Bay of Plenty Times on Tuesday, was appointed to her new position after principal Opie resigned earlier in the week.

A self-confessed extrovert and "people-person", McIndoe says she's up for the challenge.

"I will be following on from the school vision and will consult widely with the staff, students and the community about what they want for our school," she said.

"I think it is really important to listen to the voice of our people."

Her bubbly personality is accessorised with a giant pink flower and matching lipstick and nail polish.

But there is serious professionalism behind the fun persona.

Earlier in her career, McIndoe lived in Japan for a year teaching English and has been the primary school's Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) for nine years.

"It has been a big part of my role as deputy principal," she said. "I am really passionate about inclusive education and ensuring our children have equal opportunities."

McIndoe says she has learned a lot from Opie and is looking forward to bringing her own "flair and style" to the role.

"It is an honour and a privilege," she said. "I am really passionate about this school and I wanted to maintain the momentum and keep the good things going."

McIndoe also hopes to change the colour scheme of her new office when her new adventure begins next year.

"I will definitely have a bit more of a girly look."


The school's board of trustees chairman, Mark Graham, says Opie has left his mark on the school.

"He has left us in a very strong position both financially and from student learning perspective," he said. "We will certainly miss Geoff."

But as the school prepared to bid him farewell, it also welcomes McIndoe to the job.

McIndoe, he says, stood out among a large number of applicants to the role.

"Even if you took away the fact we knew her and all of her history with the school, she was still the right person for the role."