Ralph Zapart, from Eastside Lutheran College was formally fare welled on the 15th of September with an outpouring of admiration and love from the students, teachers and families at a service followed by a BBQ lunch. Ralph, we wish you every blessing as you begin your transition to retirement. The following is an extract from Eastside Lutheran College’s Newsletter, which I would like to share, authored by current Principal Wendy Ruback:
“What Makes a Principal Great?
I have worked under several Principals in my 27 years of teaching and I have learnt much by observing them. With some, I’ve learnt what I would not do if I was in the role and from others, I’ve learnt some very valuable lessons. I am in the unique position of having worked with Ralph in a number of schools and in working with and watching him, I have learnt the most. He has been, without a doubt, the most humble, hard-working and successful Principal I have experienced. When it comes to defining what makes a Principal successful, he has shown me the characteristics that are common across school levels and community demographics.
In all his years as a Principal he has always shown these traits:
The school is a family. There is an air of connectedness that any visitor can sense immediately when walking into a school that is led by him. He develops “a community of caring.” Teachers and parents talk about him being accessible and students feel at home in the building, aware that he cares about them. The sense of teamwork is apparent, and just as good teachers maintain a family atmosphere in a classroom, he establishes that same feeling in the school as a whole.
Teachers are treated as professionals. Not all Principals are good teachers; but it helps. Having observed Ralph in the classroom many times over the years; I can truly say he is a gifted teacher. He can walk into a classroom; make any subject interesting and have all the students engaged. As a leader, he understands the need for teachers to be treated as professionals and does not micro-manage. He lets his teachers teach; expecting them to give of their best in the classroom; just as he does.
Students are at the centre. Ralph knows his students. He knows their names, their stories, their strengths, and their weaknesses. He knows about their families, their dreams, and their limitations. If you walk through a school in which Ralph is the leader, on any given day, you’ll see him having a conversation with a student; showing a genuine interest what is being discussed. The students know he cares about them, and they know he is there to make a difference in their school and in their lives.
He reaches out to families. He makes an effort to include families in the community of the school. He offers help to parents and always has time for face to face meetings. Ralph has often gone above and beyond for families (often to the detriment of his own family). If a student or a family needs help outside of school hours; he’s there. Many times, over many years Ralph has driven students’ home, collected students for school in the mornings and provided outside support for students and families in need. He doesn’t clock off at 4:00 pm and his care extends beyond the school gate and his empathy and compassion for families is exceptional.
He has great reservoirs of energy. As one teacher explained it, “He squeezes 28 hours into 24.” He in the office late at night and on the weekends. He picks up rubbish and plants trees around the campus and up until recently he could be seen on the ride on mower on weekends on the College oval. He spends time working with teachers, dealing with student behaviour, and communicating with parents and others in the community. During his “off” time, he’s thinks about ways to promote the school and is always on the lookout for opportunities that enrich student learning.
He promotes pride in the school and teamwork. There is a palpable spirit in the school that has Ralph as their leader. It can be felt when listening to the morning announcements and seen on the hallway walls. Everything is a celebration, and students and staff in the school are happy to be there. Teachers and students know they are valued. Even when something negative occurs, he reminds staff to ‘look at the forest not the trees.’ Ralph treats everyone the same; the cleaners, the administration staff, the students, teachers and support staff and all develop a sense of ownership and pride in their school and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
He develops leaders. In all the schools that Ralph has led, he has worked diligently to ensure that teachers are equipped to be leaders in the classroom. He uses all available funds to make certain resources and supplies are available and professional development is encouraged. He is passionately fair and always ensures that his teachers and support staff are well looked after.
He has a clear vision and walks the talk. Ralph has the capacity sees the potential of what could be in schools and puts his all into realising his vision. He has often likened his work to a woodpecker; chipping away bit by bit. Ralph also never forgets that leadership is about service and making those around him better. He has always ‘walked the talk’ and expressed Christian love by his actions and his words. In all the schools in which he has worked he has shown a clear vision of creating a loving Christian School community in which all students can learn about God’s love and forgiveness.
It is difficult for Ralph to retire from his active work as a Principal, having been a leader and Principal in government and Lutheran schools for over 40 years. Whilst at age 68 his mind is still willing; his body is not. Whilst he does not want to ‘leave a legacy,’ by his very leadership and commitment to the students and families of the College, he leaves a void felt keenly by all. It is my heartfelt prayer that his physical health improves to the extent that he can continue to take an active role in the future of ELC and in his retirement he can reflect on ‘a job well done’ and enjoy the ‘fruits of his labour’ in the years to come.”
Eastside Lutheran College, Hobart