For 20 years, Gary Methven has helped guide and shape thousands of children as principal of Beaconsfield Primary School. Last term he hung up his Driza-Bone and guitar to enjoy a much deserved retirement, as SHELBY BROOKS reports.
Not all school principals have as much personality as Beaconsfield Primary’s former principal Gary Methven.
On the playground, he was recognisable in his signature Driza-Bone, beard and Akubra.
In the classroom, his passion to foster a love of writing, music and most of all kindness was the shining light at the school for the two decades he served as principal.
Gary’s journey into teaching began growing up on a dairy farm in Kooweerup, attending the local primary and secondary school.
“Ever since I was a kid I was always teaching the teddies,” Gary said.
“Basically all my life I wanted to be a teacher.”
He credits many of his school teachers for helping to inspire him.
“Back in grade two, Mrs Johnston who was teaching at Kooweerup Primary School was inspiration to me,” Gary said.
“And there were many in high school who were really quite inspiring, some of them I saw more of than I saw my parents.
“So I’ve had many wonderful people be part of my upbringing.”
After studying at Frankston Teachers’ College, Gary’s first teaching position was at a tiny school in the Yarra Ranges.
He was the only teacher for the 17 students who made up the school, across all six year levels.
“It was a job that no one else had applied for,” Gary said.
“It was very remote- I was the only teacher there. I relied on my colleagues in other schools to figure out which was way up.
“One of the hazards of working out bush was keeping the school yard free of snakes. The snakes loved hiding under the trampoline, (one of the few items of play equipment), I removed six of them that year.
“It certainly was a big learning curve and I was thrown in the deep end because I was doing absolutely everything including managing the books and setting the curriculum.”
After 12 months there (he had wanted to stay but the job was given to someone else higher on the placement list), Gary went on to teach at a number of schools across Gippsland, including Bunyip Primary School.
And then in 1997 he moved to Beaconsfield Primary School to work as an assistant principal under Di Lockwood.
“I knew of the former principal Di Lockwood because she was a wonderful and inspiring principal and she was very keen on writing and teaching kids how to write and I was very keen to go and work with her and learn all I could,” Gary said.
“Beaconsfield already had a really good name all those years ago and that’s probably what attracted me to that particular position.”
Four years into the job, Di retired and Gary stepped up as principal, where he stayed for 20 years.
“It’s crazy for me to think I’ve been in the same job for 20 years because I had never worked anywhere longer than four years before that. I’d get tired of the job and move onto something new and exciting,” Gary said.
“But as principal, everything is new and exciting and there was always something new to learn and do so it kept it very interesting over the whole time.”
Early on as principal, Gary helped implement the change from portables to permanent buildings, he built up the staff base and watched the expansion of the school pupil population.
When he started, there were about 270 students, there are now 700.
“Over the 20 years the school grew rather rapidly and that was evident from the second or third year as principal,” Gary said.
“I was very keen to see Beaconsfield keep that lovely community feel despite the growth.
“I tried to maintain that sense of connectedness- kids need to belong to something and that sense of having a place in the world while the school was growing fast was quite a challenge.”
Gary did that through support of his teaching staff and encouraging them to model the core values he wanted to instil in the students.
“It was mainly working with staff because a principal cannot do anything by themselves,” Gary said.
“If you want to teach kids values, you have to operate by a high set of values yourself.
“When the staff see you offering kindness, care and compassion, it’s very easy for them to model themselves that love and care and kindness for the kids.
“Over the 20 years we have really built a staff that take every opportunity to lift the kids up, to elevate them, to compliment and praise them, show kindness and show that they accept them.”
That sense of kindness and a welcoming environment is key to Gary’s teaching philosophy.
“Everyone wants the kids to learn but there is so much more that we want for our kids other than just teaching and learning,” Gary said.
“We want them to have a great sense of imagination, we want them to be curious about the world and we want them to be creative so they can create their own world ahead.
“When you see in kids a great sense of humour or sense of social justice or optimism, then you know you’ve done a really good job of creating that sense of environment.
“Teachers are in a marvellous position- we don’t make the rules of society but we can certainly create a template for society that is based on kindness and acceptance and justice- and in doing that you can have a huge impact on the community and the future of Australia and the future of those kids.”
After 20 years of being principal at Beaconsfield Primary School, Gary Methven retired in style last term with a very special send off.
Gary Methven’s last day at the end of term two was celebrated by a surprise ‘Mr Methven Day’, in which the students dressed up in the principal’s signature style- beards, ties, suits, guitars, Akubra’s and Driza-Bone coats.
“It was a big surprise,” Mr Methven said.
“As I pulled up in the car to the school, I saw my assistant principal Linda Amos and I thought ‘oh, she has a Driza-Bone on, she doesn’t have a Driza-Bone… I think there is something afoot here!’
“It was really quite extraordinary. The kids had a great day and I had a great day.”
A concert was also held in which every grade performed a song for Mr Methven.
“The children were very good, they were able to keep is a secret from him,” new principal Heidi Inglis said.
“Though he suspected something was coming.
“We held a fantastic assembly where the school captains spoke and had some reflections and even a poem.”
All 700 students also wrote a piece about Gary and drew a picture of him to line the back wall with.
“Gary’s passion was for the children to have a love of writing,” Ms Inglis said.
“That’s a legacy he is leaving at Beaconsfield Primary School- he wanted children to see how authentic it was to have a voice.
“We also had songs and performance because that’s what we do at Beaconsfield. We love our music.”
Gary said it was an emotional day.
“The concert was very moving,” he said.
“It was one of the last times that we could assemble the way we used to and they haven’t been able to run an assembly since because of lockdown.
“It was a fabulous last day. It was a wonderful celebration with the kids and one I’ll never forget.”
Looking back, Gary feels what he is most proud to have achieved was the sense of creating a school based around kindness and a sense of real compassion with teachers.
“Teachers that really valued and accepted the kids, that taught them to the best of their ability, that worked so hard together to actually plan in the most challenging circumstances sometimes is probably my greatest achievement and the thing that will carry the school forward so well,” Gary said.
“And every team member that we’ve put on have lived and breathed that sense of wanting to do the best by these kids to create a wonderful school.”
Although he is sad to go, Gary is keen to enjoy retirement with his wife Jann.
“It’s bittersweet when you leave a job you’ve been in for so long but everything we did was an adventure, we got to plan our new buildings, we got to work with some marvellous school council presidents and assistant principals.
“I have extraordinary fond memories working with a generation of really lovely people at Beaconsfield and lovely families – I was very very privileged to be part of that for 24 years.”