By Emilie Ng
LEADING a school ties Upper Coomera’s first Catholic school principal to a 70-hour working week, but the arduous slog is nothing but a dream come true.
“There’s no job more satisfying than teaching, of being able to make a difference and investing in the future,” principal Dora Luxton said.
Working as principal for the Gold Coast’s first Prep to Year 12 Catholic co-educational school has been the cherry on top for Dora.
Born Theodora Petronella Francisca, the name given to all the eldest girls in Dora’s paternal Dutch clan, she has watched the Franciscan-based Assisi College grow from only 150 students in its beginning in 2005, to more than 1300 this year.
Her work at Assisi College has also earned her a coveted Spirit of Education award for the Leading and Facilitating for Change and Improvement category.
After a good 12 years shaping Catholic education in Upper Coomera, the 63-year-old will end her 70-hour working week as principal for Assisi College in December.
While she’s nervous and in “a little bit of denial” about retiring and handing the reigns to a new leader, Dora said she was “at peace”.
“I think it’s very much that we’re in charge of a destiny that’s not our own,” Dora said.
“After 12 years (Assisi College) needs new eyes.”
Dora leaves behind her 1357 students, and more than 100 staff, who have watched the foundation principal take charge of the growing school.
“It’s like letting your children go, you’ve invested all your time and energy (on them),” she said.
“The community values about what has happened over the last 12 years will continue.
“Because it doesn’t rest with me otherwise it’ll be a failure in all of this.
“I’m at peace with that.”
Dora’s entrance into building a Catholic school from the ground up started 43 years ago, the same time she married her husband Ian, a fellow teacher.
“We met at university,” she said.
“We were married while I was still a student – I was 20 when we were married – and we’ve been married for 43 years.
“We grew up together.”
The couple welcomed two children, a son and a daughter, and for Dora, married life offered a “partnership” that helped her move forward in her teaching vocation.
“It was good that I had a husband,” she said.
“I worked through the week and I did my Masters study on a Saturday morning, so he took the children to sport.”
But Dora also realised her work could never replace her vocation to her children.
“There were a couple of times when my daughter said ‘I never see Mum’,” she said.
“That was a bit of a reality check.”
The realities of separating family life even influenced Dora’s living decisions.
“I made a conscious decision that we would live at Casuarina, that I would work here (in Upper Coomera),” she said.
“That’s been another one of God’s plans because it meant that my work world and family world and life world were completely separated.
“That gave me the time in the car, to and from school, to be able to reflect and plan, and it still is the quiet time within my day, that is I think, Sabbath time.
“The radio’s not on, I don’t take calls on my mobile.
“There are times when you think it’s too hard, overwhelming, I can’t do this.
“That’s where having the balance somewhere else is one of the secrets in being able to do both well.”
Dora didn’t start out working in the Catholic education sector, but the system found its way into her heart after she wrestled with her vocation.
“I was in the state system for 15 years teaching and in leadership there,” she said.
“I always thought teaching was my vocation but there was something missing.
“Even though there were lovely students that I had and staff, something wasn’t quite there.”
The missing ingredient hid on the Catholic education shelf, revealing itself when Dora saw a job opening at St Michael’s College, on the Gold Coast.
Despite not having the theological training to lead a Catholic school, Dora credits her “deep personal faith” for pushing her through the door.
“I grew up a Catholic and my dad converted to Catholicism to marry Mum,” she said.
“Growing up in Ipswich, my dad was on the pastoral council.
“However I didn’t go to a Catholic secondary school, as there were four of us but my parents didn’t have a lot of money.
“I had the opportunity as an adult to learn and see things again rather than just what I learnt as a child, when I was required to do a lot of courses to improve my theological understanding.”
The opportunities led to a job as principal at Our Lady’s College, Annerley, before she returned four years later to St Michael’s, Merrimac, this time as principal for seven years.
It was at Merrimac where Dora began thinking of new ways to enrich children’s education, not in separate secondary or primary “silos” but within a community.
A local Catholic priest helped draw the thoughts from Dora’s brain and discussions about a new Prep to Year 12 school eventually led to her role as foundation principal of Assisi College.
“During my time in seven years of principalship at St Michael’s, Fr Gerry Hefferan, who was parish priest here at Oxenford Coomera, came to talk to me,” she said.
“He said, ‘I heard you have some ideas about a P-12 school’, and said they were building one at Upper Coomera.
“He said to me, ‘I’d like to pick your brain about what you think about’.
“Then they advertised the school for a foundation principal.
“Something within me thought this was meant to be, and at that stage I applied and I was successful in being appointed foundation principal.
“I thought, ‘Now I have a chance to use the experience I have, to draw on that, and to be able to shape a school’.
“And it’s been a dream job, absolutely.
“From the point of view of being an exciting, exhausting experience, to that idea of just having this responsibility for all aspects of it, saying, ‘You can’t blame anybody else’.
“I keep thinking of Francis’ quote, ‘Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible, and then suddenly you’re doing the impossible’.”