Mr Dean Woods will retire as principal of Hardy Memorial Primary School at the end of June.
After 25 years as the Richhill school’s beloved headmaster, Mr Woods will leave behind him a legacy of genuine hospitality and warmth - having given the school a reputation for investing deeply in its pupils.
Hardy will always be in my heart and I will treasure the happy memories of the many pupils I have taught over the years...Principal Dean Woods
First coming to teach in the school in 1977, Dean has overseen and orchestrated a wealth of change in both the school and the village. After gaining his teaching qualifications at Stranmillis University College, Dean’s first teaching appointment was in Hardy Memorial, at which point his classroom was a small room in the former Presbyterian Church Hall on New Line.
“The original school was built in 1928,” Mr Woods explained. “In the first classroom in the Church Hall, I had a chalkboard, a desk, a dictionary - and a box of chalk!”
After teaching at the school for six years, he was appointed as principal of Lurgan Model Primary School until 1988, before serving as principal of Dickson Primary School for two years.
In September 1990, Dean returned to Richhill as principal of Hardy Memorial, following the retirement of Mr Trevor King. He and his wife made history when she became principal of Lisnadill Primary School in Armagh at the same time.
“My wife and I were both appointed as principals in the same week in 1990,” Dean shared.
“Hardy is very very different from other town schools; because it’s the only primary school in the village, you get to know people over the years. There are people who were parents of pupils I taught when I first came here in 1977, and I still see them here. I remember them coming in as young parents with their children - there’s something nice about that. You feel a very small part of something.”
For many in Richhill, Mr Woods has been quite a big part of something over the past 25 years - one major development being the crucial role played by Dean and the Education Board in securing the bid for Richhill Recreation Centre, which opened in 2007.
“The council got that because the school promised to use it during the day. It’s fabulous for us because we would never have had the opportunity to have that sort of space within the school.”
Mr Woods has invested a lot of time in sport at Hardy and, along with primary seven teacher Mr Collins, he has led students to a string of sporting victories.
“From a sporting point of view, we had a great run,” he explained. “Two years in a row, we got to the Northern Ireland Schools Football final. We won the Mid-Ulster Cup, Mid-Ulster League - all sorts - and it was great fun! We took the kids all over the place: those things happen maybe once in twenty years.”
Past pupils fondly recall memories of their time at Hardy Memorial Primary School, from PTA-run film nights - for which staff members gave up their Friday evenings - to the school fun nights, which provide annual entertainment for the village, with a host of activities and attractions. Mr Woods was famed for telling stories of ‘Jimmy’ during school assemblies every week, which each had a little life lesson for pupils - as well as giving them a giggle.
The atmosphere within the primary school has always been notably different, due in part to its landlocked location at the heart of the village, and also to Dean’s creation of a welcoming environment. The school building has been developed in recent years to facilitate an extended space for teaching.
As for the remainder of his time at Hardy, Mr Woods has a lot on his plate, “This is the busiest time of the year in school, as reports are prepared and preparations made for the new school year.
“Over the past two weeks, I have been to Paris with our P7s, run in Sports Day, and immersed myself in fun night!”
Dean’s commitment to broadening the horizons of Hardy pupils is evident in the fact that he has now travelled to Paris 30 times, and has consistently sought out new opportunities for the school.
“Most recently, we sang at Richhill Castle for BBC Newsline in the run up to Christmas. We filmed for a good part of the day and sang a song that commemorated the First World War - that was 2014 going back to 1914. Back in 2012, we did a play on the Titanic, ‘She was alright when she left us’, with Dan Gordon through the Ulster-Scots Agency. A lady came down from the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and the children got so much out of it - it was amazing!”
Dean is quick to acknowledge his predecessor, Mr Trevor King, and the dedicated support of vice principals, Mr George McHugh, Mrs Audrey Henderson, Mrs Helen Wilson, and staff, governors, parents and friends in the community - namely the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Mr Jim Speers, for his unfailing encouragement throughout his career at Hardy.
With his final assembly at the end of June, Dean is looking forward to a retirement spent with his family - with children now living in Glasgow, London, and as far away as Canada.
His wife, Joan, retired a few years ago, and the two have a cruise lined up for later in the year:
“I think it’s time to stop and take life at a slower pace. Hardy will always be in my heart and I will treasure the happy memories of the many pupils I have taught over the years, and the friendships forged with parents and the local community.
“Hardy has been only good to me and the village of Richhill has been absolutely fabulous - I will miss it massively. I wish my successor, Mrs Elaine Anderson, every success in her future role as principal of this unique school, and hope she will be as happy as I have been.”