Kate Leebody (1978-2014)
“It is what it is” – that’s how Kate Leebody sums up her rich and varied career at St Peter’s College. Philosophical, pragmatic and optimistic, she has made her mark on the many young lives that she has helped to steer towards rewarding careers.
Originally from Hedgehope, she was dux of the local primary school and then a first day pupil at James Hargest High School. Kate came to Gore in 1968 via teacher training at Christchurch. Looking back she says that in the 1960s, girls tended to be steered towards nursing or teaching and she found herself fulfilling those expectations. At the time there was a shortage of maths and science teachers, so she was channelled in that direction. After a couple of initial posts she was appointed to teach maths at Gore High School and then in 1978 transferred to St Peter’s College.
Kate's story continues below
As a non-Catholic, she was surprised to find that there was less obvious religion in her new Catholic school. She was used to religious assemblies taking place daily, but initially, worship at SPC was in individual classrooms and it was only later that whole school assemblies started. Kate found the priests and nuns to be inclusive and understanding and her involvement was always encouraged in situations that required care and empathy, if not in religious ones.
Over the years, she has witnessed the change from a religious, to a totally lay staff and has found it particularly interesting going on retreats with teachers and pupils and seeing how they coped in different environments, which could prove personally challenging.
Kate’s life in Gore has centred round her family, her teaching and also netball, which has been an ongoing passion. Heavily involved in coaching, Kate successfully progressed up to national level in netball administration. Netball provided her with huge opportunities and growth through personal development in the sport. In school, Kate was increasingly aware that there was a cohort of young people who were not adequately catered for by the curriculum and although there was always a careers teacher at SPC, funding for this department was limited.
The introduction of a financial strand for STAR and Gateway programmes in education and her move into this role, provided an opportunity for her to develop a vocational department. Involving local tradespeople to give youngsters valuable work experience, co-ordinating courses with polytechnics and educating parents on the value of practical training for those not suited to university, are just some of her achievements. The opening of the Tertiary High School has been the culmination of this work. Six rural high schools have come together to allow young people to gain qualifications from a Tertiary provider with a wider group and to gain credits for NCEA level 2 while following a Vocational Pathways. Kate intends to maintain an interest in this work and the vocational Youth Guarantee Network after she leaves SPC.
Asked if pupils are any different today from when she started teaching, she thinks not, despite some of today’s perceptions and she cites the glowing report on the conduct of the school netball team that she recently took on tour to Australia. She has worked hard to introduce the cult of the role model into her pupil’s lives, aided by the SPC ethic of teachers respecting their pupils, which sets a good example.
When tragedy struck her family in 2000, Kate found the whole school community united in their support and was grateful to find them all at her side through that difficult time. Looking back she regrets the increasing burden of administration now placed on staff. The demands of meetings and paperwork have eroded some of the interchange that was always so much a part of SPC.
Her retirement and impending move from Gore to Dunedin, will open a new chapter in Kate’s life and make it easier for her to maintain family ties with her sons in Dunedin and Auckland. As she sets off on a two month tour of the USA and Europe, she can look back on the many achievements of her career to date and reflect quite rightly that - “it is what it is”.
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