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Rita O’Brien prepares to retire after a lifetime at Mypolonga Primary School
The school's long-serving principal has been a teacher, parent and governing council chairperson there, too.
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When term one starts at Mypolonga Primary School next year, the buildings, the uniform and most of the students will be the same.
But it will still feel like there’s something missing.
Long-serving principal Rita O’Brien will retire this week after a career in which she has filled almost every possible role at the school.
As principal for the past 14 years, she has grown its reputation here and around the world, transforming it into a magnet for the many families who now move to Mypo to raise their children.
In previous years she has taught at the school, filled in as an SSO while she was pregnant, parented her children while they were students there, and served as chairperson of the governing council.
She has taught three generations of at least one local family.
And she wouldn’t change it for the world.
“It’s a priceless place,” she said.
“You just can’t buy it.
Mrs O’Brien was born in Denmark but grew up at Tailem Bend, taking the train to high school in Murray Bridge with dozens of other students each day.
She spent six years in Adelaide and had never intended to move back to the country, but wound up at Mypolonga after she married Bill, then an apricot grower.
She was immediately been struck by a sense of community, and by Mypo people’s can-do attitudes.
She was proud that the school had since become so widely respected, she said: a place parents with aspirations for the future wanted to bring their children.
A big part of that was the school shop, where students sold locally produced goods on consignment to visiting tourist groups.
She described it as the snowball that kept getting bigger.
It won an award at the inaugural SA Public Education Awards in 2011; was recognised by the OECD – the global Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – as an innovative learning environment in 2013; helped with the school’s induction into the SA Regional Showcase hall of fame in 2015; and has been visited by overseas academics keen to adopt its ideas in their own countries.
Through all those years, Mrs O’Brien and her staff poured their hearts and souls into the place.
Being the principal of a small country school was not just a job, she said – it was a life.
Retirement would take some getting used to.
But she said she was “over the moon” that Mypo's next principal would be Sunyl Vogt, previously of Pinnaroo Primary School.
Mr Vogt had bought a house locally and would look to form the same close community ties she had, she suggested.
“He’ll fit in well – he’s very sporty,” she said.
Inspirational women will be missed
Another long-serving staff member, librarian Jane Rumbelow, will also retire at the end of this year.
Current governing council chairperson Karina Harvie described both Mrs O’Brien and Mrs Rumbelow as inspirational women.
“You both go above and beyond in all that you do,” she said in the school’s last newsletter.
“The commitment and dedication to the school, community and children in your care is nothing short of extraordinary.
“You have both shaped this school and have played a significant role in the high reputation it holds today.
“We are saddened to see you go and wish you all the very best as you begin retirement.”