Havelock North's Woodford House is celebrating the rare feat of 100 per cent NCEA success. Principal Julie Peterson says the accomplishment can be attributed to many things.

1 What key factors were behind the 100 per cent NCEA successes?

Woodford House is a boutique girl-centric school where learning is fun, but serious too. There are several factors that resulted in 100 per cent NCEA success, including our exceptional and committed staff, leadership from the boards, support from parents, our pastoral care programme which ensures girls are deeply cared for and happy. And more importantly, our girls, who have an intrinsic desire to learn and succeed at the highest level.

2 What's the biggest difference between Woodford House and St Margaret's College in Christchurch where you were deputy principal?


You can hear the birds singing here at Woodford and there is no traffic noise, which is rather lovely after coming from Merivale in Christchurch. Unfortunately, due to the earthquakes, St Margaret's was a construction zone during my whole time there as we lost 80 per cent of the school.

Woodford is smaller in roll size but the expansive natural setting is vastly different " rural, intimate, and very peaceful. There is a much closer ratio of boarders to day girls here at Woodford whereas St Margaret's has a roll of 730 girls but only 150 are boarders.

3 You were there during the earthquake, tell us a bit of what that was like.

It can be rather challenging starting a new role in a new school at the best of times, so a massive earthquake in the first three weeks certainly added another level of complexity! Mother Nature had already changed our lives forever with the September earthquake and parts of the school were already closed off. The February earthquake presented us with unprecedented physical and emotional challenges and, at times, we simply had to hold fast to our faith in the stoic virtues of the founding Kilburn sisters. I think it must have been a similar unshakeable faith in the vision of Mabel Annie Hodge, which enabled Woodford House to recover after the 1931 earthquake.

The horrendous rumble that precedes an earthquake is chilling enough but the sounds of breaking glass, screaming girls, and crunching metal remain with me to this day. As teachers and parents, our focus was on every girl present, but as hysterical and bloodied families arrived to collect their girls they brought chilling news of the city and environs.

A major crisis like this strips away all that is unnecessary and fast tracked my role as deputy principal. I focused on supporting our principal, Gillian Simpson, and the staff whilst always keeping the girls at the centre. I now know that it is nice to have lovely buildings but really the spirit of a school resides in the shared community and that is where our strength at Woodford House is too.

4 What's the biggest challenge confronting young teenage women today?

Our girls need security, rich nurturing relationships and strong self-belief. One of the greatest challenges is finding certainty in uncertain times - the ability to filter complexity yet find peace within.

In this brave new Information Age, advances in technology, medicine, robotics and genetics are growing at an exponential rate and this age of disruptive innovation will present many challenges, but also many opportunities.

Our girls are preparing themselves for undefined pathways and not only need subject knowledge, but skills to become adaptable, brave, nimble and open to risks and failure.

5Name one female role model who you think young women should look up to.

Early last year we invited Claudia Batten to speak to the girls at St Margaret's girls at assembly and she was totally engaging. Her story is one of creative grit.

Leaving a very successful and safe legal career, she moved to New York in her early 20s and co-founded two innovative digital businesses. Claudia challenges linearity, which [on her part] is brave, admirable and forward thinking. She is a pioneer and encourages us all to face our fears, take risks, and step into the disruptive space. In the midst of edgy decisions, she is philanthropic, entrepreneurial, caring and brave. Claudia inspires young women to lift their horizons.