WHEN Judith Potter arrived at Loreto College as principal, one of the girls in year nine came up on the first school day and said "you're going to love it here Miss Potter".
This was the start of a 15-year chapter in Ms Potter's education career that will draw to a close, but not necessarily a full conclusion, at the end of the next school year. For Ms Potter, this student's words are still very much ringing true.
Teaching has taken Ms Potter through the government, independent and Catholic education systems. Each school has what she says is its own essence. Each school has enriched Ms Potter and offered her opportunity to grow.
What drew Ms Potter to Loreto College in Ballarat was, simply, Loreto.
When her father was working in England, Ms Potter went to a Loreto school in Cambridge and appreciated the work and message of Mary Ward, who founded the Sisters of Loreto in the 17th century.
What Ms Potter found in Ballarat was a school with its own rich history.
"When you have the privilege to be head of this beautiful school and to be part of this community, I'm not saying it's not without challenges, it does give me joy," Ms Potter said.
"...Loreto has such a rich history. So many women will still say they were Loreto girls and they loved their time here. That, for me, is at the heart of it.
"We only exist as a school for our students - we support our staff and community but it's for our students. Because I work with young people, I am someone who has great confidence in the future. These young women have voice and values and I will continue to have that confidence well beyond my time here."
Because I work with young people, I am someone who has great confidence in the future. These young women have voice and values and I will continue to have that confidence well beyond my time here.Judith Potter
Ms Potter this week publicly announced she was stepping down from her role as principal in one year's time. Not quite retired and not feeling entirely resigned either, Ms Potter is hoping to find an opportunity to stay involved in the school in some role. Just maybe part-time or in a slower pace.
When she signs off as Loreto principal, Ms Potter will have been in a school principal role for 20 years, starting from an acting role at Genazzo College in Kew, then via Kilvington Grammar School near Caulfield.
Ms Potter arrived at Loreto with the major task of bringing Loreto's years 7-8 Dawson Street and years 9-12 Mary's Mount (Sturt Street) campuses to one site.
Mother Mary Gonzaga Berry arrived in Ballarat from Ireland with her community of sisters in 1875 to establish the first Loreto school in Australia. Mother Gonzaga Berry established two schools for girls, Dawson Street and Mary's Mount, as well as primary schools in a time of growth for Ballarat.
In 2007, Ms Potter was charged with bringing this altogether to meet modern school needs.
As Ms Potter steps down as principal, she is overseeing plans for a Loreto expansion in Ballarat. This includes a search for a new secondary campus and likelihood of boarding facilities to meet future demands in a fast-growing community once more.
"This is another time for change. Everything we have achieved here is because everyone gets right in and gets involved, right across the school. It's a collective achievement," Ms Potter said.
"In a time of change there is always a loss - there is opportunity and there is loss. We took a year and celebrated the history of Dawson Street before it closed. Everyone worked together and it was wonderful we were able to achieve that. The board now has a lot of plans for its strategic goals that continue next year and is the beginning of more glorious opportunity as Loreto."
Loreto's school values are integral to Ms Potter's work. This includes the principle of Mother Gonzaga Berry in valuing how to treat people and that if given much to always find ways to give back.
We want them to be happy as a student, to feel they belong and are valued for who they are, to not be expected to be anyone else.Judith Potter
Ms Potter hopes to instill this in each young women at Loreto College. Based on such tradition, Ms Potter believes this is why so many women are so proud and fond of their time at the school, well after they have left the classrooms.
"We want them to be happy as a student, to feel they belong and are valued for who they are, to not be expected to be anyone else," Ms Potter said.
"Students, whether their peers or older girls, we want them to feel comfortable with each other at school and feel they are making a difference. I feel very strongly about never wanting girls to feel they have to fit a mold."
Ms Potter has deep gratitude for the wider Ballarat community for welcoming her from the moment she first arrived in town, from her next door neighbours to the school and broader education network.
A real strength Ms Potter found in Ballarat was how the city's high schools worked together in a united aim to achieve what was best for the community. This is a vital quality Ms Potter said hoped Ballarat would hold on to as the city, like Loreto, grows and evolves.
Humbled by those already wishing her well, Ms Potter said there was still one more exciting year ahead.
"I don't know it's for me to say what my legacy will be. Mary Gonzaga says you must leave something on which others can build," Ms Potter said. "I hope there is great opportunity for others to take for Loreto."
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