Pupils at Tawhero School in Whanganui say their departing principal Chris Dibben is "a bit hard case".

Dibben is known for his off-the-wall sense of humour so it comes as no surprise to hear him say that he taking early retirement because he is "finally old enough to leave primary school".

Children, staff, family members and visitors to Tawhero School have all experienced the Dibben handshake - a series of palm, knuckle and wrist movements followed by a jiu-jitsu style kick.

Pupils summoned to the principal's office have been more likely to have their ankles grabbed from under a desk or their armpits tickled than receive a telling off.

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Long-serving principal Chris Dibben bidding farewell to his beloved pupils at Tawhero School. Photo/Bevan Conley
Long-serving principal Chris Dibben bidding farewell to his beloved pupils at Tawhero School. Photo/Bevan Conley

His waggishness belies the fact he has devoted 18 years to a school which has become a model for community inclusion and he has led a devoted team always putting children at the centre.

Politicians have described the decile 1 school as a template for inclusiveness and whānau support.

Former Labour leader Andrew Little praised the school and Dibben's leadership when he visited in 2015.

"The involvement with school families and the wider community is something to be admired and emulated," he said.

Dibben says the staff, board of trustees and a team of volunteers have all worked to make that possible.

"It's all about the kids - anything for the kids," is a catchphrase of Dibben's.

School secretary Sandra Carrick (often referred to as "Mrs Carrot" by Tawhero pupils) has worked with Dibben since he took on the role in 2001.

"It's been an awesome partnership even though the office flooded soon after his arrival."

On Friday it was tears that were threatening to soak the school carpets as pupils, staff and whānau gathered to farewell Dibben.

"Chris always said the carpets in his car get wet on weekends and school holidays because he misses the kids so much," said Carrick who got a little choked up herself while making her speech on Friday.

"The board of trustees all got tearful when Chris announced his resignation as well," she said.

School secretary Sandra Carrick said she had enjoyed an awesome partnership with Chris Dibben during their long time together at Tawhero School. Photo / Bevan Conley
School secretary Sandra Carrick said she had enjoyed an awesome partnership with Chris Dibben during their long time together at Tawhero School. Photo / Bevan Conley

Tawhero board chairman Nga Apai has worked with Dibben for almost as long as Carrick, serving in the role for 16 years.

"I couldn't leave because Chris would never give me my leaving certificate but now I'm giving him one."

The board's farewell gift was a beautifully carved wooden koru and there were a number special keepsakes presented to the departing principal.

School board chair Nga Apai presented Chris Dibben with a special leaving certificate. Photo / Bevan Conley Photo/Bevan Conley
School board chair Nga Apai presented Chris Dibben with a special leaving certificate. Photo / Bevan Conley Photo/Bevan Conley

A shopping bag with wheels presented by teacher Rex Denman contained "a selection of items that every retired person needs", he said.

"There's a denture brush and bath, scissors for cutting up all those ties you won't be wearing any more, Spider-Man pull-up pants, some school issue toilet paper, a Santa suit and some marbles to replace the ones you're losing."

Deputy principal Jacki Boyle then presented her departing boss with a walking stick complete with a rearview mirror.

Dibben is, in fact, a few weeks shy of his 60th birthday and said he always planned to retire early.

"I joined an old-fashioned retirement scheme many years ago and that has made it possible."

Dibben's career included a number of Whanganui schools, including St Johns Hill where he said he was inspired by Peter Stewart.

"He was the guy who always knew everyone's name and I thought 'that's how you do it'."

Dibben met his wife Gailene at Keith St School, and she shared some stories about her husband's pranks while they were working together.

She recalled the time when he offered to transport her to her classroom in an abandoned supermarket trolley left in the school grounds and pushed her much too fast, and the time he pushed her into the swimming pool.

"I was bending over to help a child in the pool when Mr Dibben came up behind me and pretended to push me in.

"My hands slipped on the wet concrete and I fell in."

The stories got a lot of laughs from the Tawhero children and so did the slide show which included photos of a young Dibben with abundant moustaches and hairstyles of the 1980s.

Asked what they will remember most about their departing principal, a group of 9-year-olds had plenty to say.

"All the years he's made us laugh," Piata Wairiki said.

Victoria Hemsley said she would remember Dibben's kindness most.

"His handshake," Ruby Turner said.

"All the good things he did for us," Maida Kahukura said.

Long serving principal Chris Dibben is leaving Tawhero School.

Dibben now plans to spend a couple of days a week helping his son Richie at Dibben Swartz Suzuki and doing a bit of gardening.

He is optimistic about the future of New Zealand education and says he likes the recommendations of the independent Tomorrow's Schools taskforce and hopes the Government will implement them.

"The scrapping of the decile system, the establishment of education hubs and easing workloads for boards would all be really positive."

Despite his own long service, Dibben says he also thinks reviewing principal's appointments after five years is a good idea.

"Principals should welcome that as it would help them look at their commitments and do what is best for themselves as well as the schools."

Dibben's replacement is Karleen Marshall, who leaves her post as principal of Te Wainui a Rua school in Ranana.

"She will do very well and she is a very good fit for the school.

"I'm going to stay away and not visit for a while so she has the opportunity to settle in."

Marshall will be welcomed with a powhiri at Tawhero School on April 29.