After an extraordinary career spanning four decades and three dioceses, Paul Croker, the principal of St Charles Primary School in Waverley in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, is retiring with a “quiet sense of pride and accomplishment”.
“Working to create positive and harmonious school communities has been an absolute joy, hard work too of course at different times,” he said.
“But when we’re all working together to effectively support students with diverse learning needs and gifted and talented needs it’s really a very satisfying and enjoyable position to be in.”
St Charles’ assistant principal Suzanne Georgiou said that Paul’s door is always open to everyone and he “exudes integrity, humility, selflessness and decency”.
“In the last five years since Paul has been the principal he has been a dedicated, compassionate, pragmatic and effective leader,” she said.
“Paul has strived to build a truly supportive and inclusive school that supports the growth and development of every child in every lesson, every day.
“While he has made many physical improvements to the St Charles’ school site, it is his actions, those invisible and intangible incidental daily acts and encounters, that have made the most profound and lasting impact upon the students and staff at St Charles’.
“His faith-filled, gentle, calm and empathetic approach is highly respected by the students, parents and staff.
“He has lived out the school’s charism and instilled a truly Franciscan sense of peace, courtesy and simplicity, throughout the school. Paul leaves a lasting legacy and he will be greatly missed by the entire St Charles’ school community.”
Paul’s career in Catholic education has spanned 42 years starting in 1980 as a classroom teacher at St Monica’s Primary School, Evatt, in the ACT. He has led as principal in nine Catholic primary schools across the Archdiocese of Canberra/Goulburn, Diocese of Wollongong and Archdiocese of Sydney.
He was only 25 when he was appointed the first lay principal at St Mary’s, Batlow, in 1985, and says the biggest change he’s noticed over the years has been the business of parents’ lives.
“There’s a sense of disconnection with the local school sometimes and that real sense of partnership and trust between the parents and school becomes harder to maintain.
“So when you do create that really strong bond between families and school and students and staff things really do work a lot better.
Paul says he was attracted to teaching because he really enjoyed learning, and has also worked in the Canberra/Goulburn Catholic Education Office and the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training.
“I’m a very inquisitive person and enjoy learning about everything really. And I felt there was an opportunity to share that knowledge and to spark that curiosity and interest in learning with others,” he said.
“I’ve been absolutely blessed by working with incredibly dedicated people over the years, very selfless people who are very dedicated to the needs of children, their pastoral care as well as their learning needs.
“You observe your colleagues dedicated to helping children grow and learn and they inspire you to make their job easier – to offer support, provide direction and behaviour management processes.”
After retiring in December, the father of three and grandfather of four is looking forward to sailing more as a volunteer crew member with the Sydney Heritage Fleet, gardening and spending time with his family.
Chris O’Keeffe former school secretary, Holy Family Primary School, Gowrie, Canberra, also sung Paul’s praises as a man of integrity who showed caring and compassion and affirmed every student and member of staff.
“He was very willing to recognise other people’s strengths and then let them run with things while offering support in the background,” she said.
Establishing the parish preschool, Corpus Christi, which was the first Catholic early learning centre in Canberra, was testament to his “huge commitment and hard work” she added.
“He also believes in the very strong links between parish and school and tries to foster that and did it very successfully.”
Lina Vigliotta, principal at St Vincent’s Aranda primary school, agreed that setting up Corpus Christi had been a huge achievement. While she was working as Paul’s deputy principal in Gowrie, he became one of her role models.
“He was certainly visionary about where it could go and what it would do for the whole community and that’s been proven over the years,” she said.