The bell has rung for the last time on Madonna Davitt’s teaching career after she inspired students from three different Bundaberg schools over almost four decades.
Madonna has retired after 15 years as principal of St Mary's Catholic Primary School.
Her Bundaberg teaching career began in 1982 with roles at St Mary's, St Joseph's and St Patrick's before she took on the principalship of St Josephs for 12 years until 2005.
While her teaching career officially began prior to that in Mackay, Bundaberg has always been “home”.
Positive childhood experiences set Madonna on her career path.
“I had some very good experiences as a child with some very good teachers who I really did admire and respect, and that was a drawcard for me,” Madonna said.
“Because they made a difference to me and just the fact that maybe I could make a difference to any child that I taught, that was an attractive prospect.”
In her first year of teaching she was thrown into a year one class which was at first daunting but ultimately proved one of the highlights of her career.
“When I got those kids at the beginning of the year, they couldn't read, they couldn't write.
“By the end of the year, to see that they could pick up a book and read it and they could put a pencil in their hand and put something on paper that was coherent, made sense, was logical.
“That gave me a real buzz.
“But probably the biggest buzz that I ever got was from just the relationship that I had with the kids.
“That was probably the most important thing.”
And the feeling was mutual.
“I’ve had ex-students come in and enrol their children into the school, and I've actually had one enrol their grandchild.
“When they say things like – ‘well, I knew you were here and I wanted my child to be here because you were here’ – that's very special and that's quite humbling and it makes you realise that maybe I did have a positive effect on them.”
Becoming a principal was also a career highlight for Madonna that she said was unexpected.
Under her guidance St Mary's grew in enrolment, adapted to emerging technologies and added new buildings and resources.
But one of her greatest legacies is found in the character of the school and the people within.
“When I first walked up the path on my first day at St Marys I had so many people say to me ‘hello’, ‘welcome to St Marys’, ‘we wish you the best’.
“And that struck me as special and unique to this particular school, so that's something that I wanted to build on and I believe we have.”
The 63-year-old is looking forward to retirement and leisure time for more frivolous reading than her busy schedule has allowed during her principalship.
However she won’t be severing ties with the school entirely.
Madonna said she was looking to keep up the tradition set by her mentor Denis Donovan, the principal who established the school on its current site.
“He was the man, the principal, I wanted to emulate.”
Every year after retirement Denis returned for the end of year liturgy.
While Denis sadly passed away earlier this year, this is a tradition Madonna said she is honoured to uphold in his memory.