Masterton educator Tom Hullena has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Mr Hullena has been an educator for more than three decades and today helps lead the development of Youth in Education, Training and Employment schemes for the Ministry of Education.

He retired last year as principal of Makoura College after taking up the post in 2009.

In 2008 the school was on the brink of closure after dwindling funds and a declining roll of little more than 200 students had stymied its board of trustees, who resigned en masse.


A groundswell of community support and opposition to the closure led to the appointment of a commissioner and Mr Hullena as principal.

The honour list citation reads that Mr Hullena helped transform the school and led significant philosophical, cultural and structural innovations that delivered a student-centred approach to learning "where the needs and interests of the students drive the curriculum and the development of a school culture based on the concepts of care, inclusion, effective relationships, high expectations, and personal and social responsibility".

Mr Hullena said the honour was humbling and was "not something that was on my radar".

"It's a huge honour and I'm very humbled by the acknowledgement. I didn't know a lot about the Queen's Birthday Honours until I received the letter asking if I was willing to accept one, so I had to do some research," he said.

He said his successful career in education, and other sectors, and the turnaround of Makoura College during his time at the helm had been collective, and not singular, accomplishments.

"I have always held the opinion that any individual achievement is always the achievement of the many. I'm honoured but very conscious as well that anything I've achieved in my time in education, or anywhere else for that matter, has only been possible through the support and goodwill of others.

"Makoura College was absolutely a team effort."