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John Thomas Retires


John Thomas Retires


In the past three decades, the landscape of Portland’s secondary education has undergone several serious metamorphoses, but the one thing that has remained consistent is business manager John Thomas.

Since joining the education department in 1986, John Thomas has seen many changes, including two schools merge into one, the development of several million dollar buildings, and worked with more than six different principals. While he stayed in the same role the entire time, his job title changed three times. Born to dairy farmers in Heywood in 1950, Mr Thomas attended Heywood High as the very first year 7 intake, before moving on to Hamilton Tech three years later to study civil engineering and then Swinbourne Tech in Hawthorn. His work in the mineral industry saw him bounce around Australia, but he settled down after marrying in 1970.For the next 15 years, he worked in the ever-evolving wool industry. It was here that he developed the skills to deal with the uncertainties of a changing work environment, and then moved on to using them in the education sector.These skills were quickly put to the test with the amalgamation of the Must St-based Technical School with the Julia St-based High School."The tech school had about 400 students, and with the merger in 1991 we grew to 800 students. On top of that were a lot of local apprentices who were undergoing study before the introduction of SW TAFE. "Welding together the two schools was a challenge; the tech school had their priorities as did the high school."While the students were quick to win over, the teaching staff and the community took a little longer to accept the change."I think we’ve done well welding them together."A myriad of portables was slowly replaced by major buildings, with a language wing, an enormous gymnasium and drama centre, and most recently, the four-school consortium Discovery Centre.Originally operating under Bill Pickston and finishing with Toni Burgoyne, Mr Thomas was the consistent factor as priorities changed over time.

As the business manager, he was the discerning factor that brought the school’s ideologies to life."The money that you get to run the school is a finite amount, and you need buffers for when an industry closes and you lose 15 students. You have to be realistic."Seeing first-hand the numerous changes of the secondary college has made Mr Thomas a wealth of knowledge, and already staff is beginning to understand how much they relied on him for even the little things."I had a phone call recently asking when the main circuit board was located. You accumulate knowledge that you never write down," he said.In retirement, Mr Thomas is suddenly finding more time to play golf and is currently planning a trip across Australia."I have no major plans as I’m just taking it easy at the moment. In the old days, I would have felt guilty ducking off and playing four holes on a Friday afternoon, but now I can spend the whole morning playing 18 holes."


To download a pdf of this article click here.


Photo courtesy of The Portland Observer.