Pop­u­lar teacher’s ser­vice hon­oured

Southern Riverina news - - FRONT PAGE -

For three decades Michael O’Leary (pic­tured) has been guid­ing and mould­ing the minds of the fu­ture within the Fin­ley dis­trict.

His ded­i­ca­tion to ed­u­ca­tion was re­warded be­fore the end of the school term when Mr O’Leary was pre­sented with a 30 year ser­vice award.

The sci­ence/agri­cul­ture teacher came to Fin­ley in 1988 and has never looked back.

Mr O’Leary was orig­i­nally pre­sented with his ser­vice hon­our at a staff meet­ing, but the award was also recog­nised at the school pre­sen­ta­tion evening with a round of ap­plause from stu­dents and other mem­bers of the school com­mu­nity.

‘‘It was flat­ter­ing to get con­grat­u­la­tions at the pre­sen­ta­tion night,’’ he said.

‘‘In my mind I don’t see it as a big achieve­ment as I’m just do­ing what I en­joy.

‘‘Re­tire­ment isn’t even on the hori­zon for me so I’ll still be at the school teach­ing for a while longer.

‘‘There are still three other staff who were teach­ing at the school from when I started, with Marty Pig­gin, Anne Bray­bon and my wife Robyn all still work­ing there.

‘‘Not that I have taught much else­where, but through many vis­its to other schools and dis­cus­sions with staff who have moved fur­ther afield, Fin­ley is one of the bet­ter schools to be at.’’

Mr O’Leary started his ca­reer as a teacher in 1988 af­ter com­plet­ing his stud­ies at the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity in Can­berra and Ku-ring-gai Col­lege of Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion, Syd­ney.

When he ar­rived at Fin­ley High the school was thriv­ing with 730 stu­dents, in­clud­ing six classes in both Year 8 and 9.

How­ever over his time Mr O’Leary has seen stu­dent and staff num­bers dwin­dle, with the school pop­u­la­tion of staff and stu­dents now nearly half this size.

‘‘This is mainly due to changes in the eco­nomics of agri­cul­ture, re-cen­tral­i­sa­tion with sev­eral large gov­ern­ment agen­cies clos­ing in the town, drought and now the is­sue of wa­ter avail­abil­ity,’’ he said.

‘‘The drought and cur­rent wa­ter pol­icy will mean that our stu­dents and their fam­i­lies will need all the sup­port we can of­fer in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

‘‘I was trained as a physics and chem­istry teacher but have since also taught agri­cul­ture.

‘‘The drought and the im­pact of wa­ter pol­icy has been a mas­sive is­sue. My wife Robyn is also an agri­cul­ture teacher and it di­rectly af­fects us as teach­ers and com­mu­nity mem­bers, our friends and our stu­dents.

‘‘Un­for­tu­nately farm­ers now need to own more land in or­der to make a liv­ing, which has seen the pop­u­la­tion of farm­ers, work­ers and stu­dents at the school de­cline.’’

Mr O’Leary said even in the cur­rent agri­cul­tural cli­mate, it is im­por­tant to foster a love of the in­dus­try in the re­gion’s young peo­ple so it can sur­vive.

‘‘One of the high­lights for me in re­cent years was with Fin­ley Apex get­ting on board with the school agri­cul­ture pro­gram to build a cat­tle com­plex in 2011.

‘‘That was a big thing for Robyn and my­self, both be­ing heav­ily in­volved in agri­cul­ture.

‘‘We see the ag pro­gram as es­sen­tial in all re­gions of Aus­tralia, but es­pe­cially here in the Rive­rina.

‘‘There is a lot of hard­ship at the mo­ment but as the world pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to grow, agri­cul­ture and re­gions such as ours will be ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial.

‘‘There are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties in the field of agri­cul­ture that are not just lim­ited to the day to day labour.

‘‘Even if our stu­dents do not pur­sue a ca­reer in agri­cul­ture, they will go for­ward into the world with a bal­anced view­point of the im­por­tance of agri­cul­ture in Aus­tralia and pro­mote the in­dus­try in a so­ci­ety that is un­for­tu­nately fairly neg­a­tive to­wards the agri­cul­tural sec­tor.’’

Mr O’Leary said he’s stayed in Finely for so long be­cause it is a ‘‘great com­mu­nity’’.

‘‘Robyn and I have raised a fam­ily here and now have three of our four chil­dren cur­rently study­ing at univer­sity,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ve even taught stu­dents that now have their own kids go­ing through high school, which can make par­ent-teacher night like a school re­union.

‘‘It was a high­light for me this year to have two ex-stu­dents reach out and say they are en­joy­ing their sci­ence teach­ing ca­reers and they drew their in­spi­ra­tion from their time at Fin­ley High School.

‘‘I was also very ex­cited that I was able to in­spire two of our stu­dents to at­tend the NASA Space Camp in 2018 (see page 5).

‘‘I at­tended this a few years ago and found it an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence that opens up many pos­si­bil­i­ties.

‘‘Other­wise it’s just all the lit­tle vic­to­ries that stick out in my mind, like kids en­joy­ing their learn­ing or the ap­pre­ci­a­tion they show when you’ve taught them some­thing new.’’

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