When Andrew FitzSimons introduces himself as the school principal of Dapto High School, he often gets told: "That must be tough!".
But, after leading the school for 19 years, he strongly disagrees.
"My life has peaked the minute I walked through these doors," Mr FitzSimons says from behind the principal's desk he will give up as he retires at the end of this term.
The passionate and socially conscious educator began teaching in 1976 and when he got the call that he would become Dapto's new school principal in 2004, burst into tears.
"Public education is one of the last truly inclusive institutions in our country," he says.
"I wanted to be principal to be part of that power for community good."
It was his dream job since he started high school; he kept a journal as a child to write down which teachers he would employ at his future school.
Set among paddocks of cows and the backdrop of the escarpment, Dapto High School educates the growing population on the western side of Lake Illawarra as well as teens in wider Dapto.
Compared to 20 years ago, when it has a reputation for being a rough school, it's now known as being at the forefront of sustainability and student welfare initiatives.
Now 71, the widely respected principal decided it was time to "pass the baton" to a new principal in term four.
"There's all these younger people dying to have a go," he says.
He led Dapto through a population boom, a COVID-19 pandemic, bushfires, multiple technological shifts and a changing community.
"I feel the weight of expectation, this community wants Dapto High School to be a good school," he says.
"If Dapto High School is a good school then this community is more creative, more productive, more resilient, economically better off, safer... and the reverse."
As Mr FitzSimons walks around his school during his final days on the job, proudly giving a tour of the grounds, he passes numerous small inspirational signs dotted throughout.
One reminds him: "Every day is precious" - a worldview he gained after a lengthy recovery from a motorbike accident in Glebe in the inner suburbs of Sydney in 1975.
"It was the end of my first week of prac teaching at Beverly Hills Girls High School, I got knocked off my motorbike and caught alight," he says.
He lost a third of his skin and half of his pinky finger in the accident and kept "the blood bank busy".
After admiring affirmation signs in schools in Bhutan in South Asia during his international education tours, he installed them at Dapto.
Being a principal is an "authentic, demanding job", Mr FitzSimons says.
"I think principals have more power to influence, to nudge, to reward, to cajole, to determine, then almost anywhere else in the education industry," he says, adding that when principals speak up on social issues, people tend to listen.
While he graduated from the prestigious Knox Grammar School in Sydney's north, he has a passion for public education and a down to earth outlook.
Before he studied at Sydney University to become a teacher, he took a gap year working as a jackaroo at a cattle farm outside Mount Isa and then worked as a fisherman.
"We've got to have public education strong and vibrant and well resourced," he said.
He is one of seven siblings (the best known of whom is commentator Peter FitzSimons) and grew up on a vegetable farm. With his dad running the local Sunday school and his mum the P&C president in charge of the bus run, he knows "it takes a village".
Stopping at the school gate at the end of his tour, Mr FitzSimons points to a purple and white Wisteria he planted eight years ago in the hope it would bloom for years to come.
As he leaves the job, the flowers are ready to be used as a graduation photo backdrop for his last cohort of year 12s.
His last day as school principal will be October 6.
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