A controversial former principal of Fairfield College in Hamilton is set to take up one of the top positions at Waikato's most prestigious school.

Julie Small resigned as Fairfield's principal after protests and multiple resignations from her staff and board in 2011.

She has now accepted a position as associate principal at St Peter's Cambridge.

Principal Dale Burden said Small was an "outstanding educational leader" and he was proud to have her on his team.


Small took over the top job at Fairfield College in 2007 with a focus on trying to turn the decile four school into one of the city's best.

She lifted NCEA pass rates but in her second year in the job, staff began to leave and eventually passed a vote of no confidence in her, sparking several heated community hui.

By 2009, the Ministry of Education brought in commissioner Dennis Finn, after the whole board of trustees resigned.

Small remained in the job but eventually resigned in 2011.

She went to Mount Roskill Grammar School in 2012 where she is currently one of two associate principals.

She will take up her new role at St Peter's in January.

Burden, a former headmaster at Auckland's Mt Albert Grammar School, told the Herald he was aware of her time at Fairfield College and said it resulted in the academic achievements of its pupils increasing.

"I wouldn't know if there was one or 100 [resignations], but I do know that there was significant improvement under her watch and for students and that is a sign of a very good educational leader.

"She's done outstanding work at Mount Roskill. We're really fortunate, in my opinion, that she applied."

When asked about the backlash that occurred at Fairfield under Small's watch, Burden said he "wasn't interested, really".

"All I know is she has been a principal of two schools and both those schools have shown significant improvement for students under her leadership."

"At the end of the day I'm interested in hiring the very best at this school."

Burden said if a school wasn't going well then there came a time when change had to happen.

"If you were to make the sort of improvement that needed to be made at that school obviously some things had to change and they did and she was the leader at the time they took place, they clearly were positive for student outcomes and that's been her track record."

Small said she was looking forward to the new venture.

She described her time at Fairfield as "a challenging leadership experience from which we did shift outcomes for students."

"For the first time ever we got students over the [50 per cent] line with NCEA achievement. So in terms of that principal from Fairfield, I see myself as having learnt great skills from all of my experiences in leadership."

Small said leading change was "always challenging but exciting and sometimes not everybody likes change".

Asked whether she had any regrets from her time at Fairfield, Small said there were "always things that you learn and I'm a learner and always will be and I'm still learning".

"The landscape in education is evolving bit by bit and the opportunity to do what Dale and I have in mind and what the staff are thinking about is just wonderful for students I think."